As part of the Open Compute Project, the data center's custom server and building designs have been made public for others in the industry to use and expand upon.
"The new computing capacity will enable us to offer great new social experiences, while setting new standards for environmental responsibility in data center design and operations," said Tom Furlong, director of technical operations at Facebook, in a press release.
'How dirty is your data?'
These kinds of efficiency efforts are the most accessible levers companies have to control environmental impact from IT operations, said Verdantix's Stuart Neumann, who worked on the Carbon Disclosure Project report. Though aiming to build in renewable-heavy areas would be environmentally beneficial, it could also result in higher energy costs for companies.
"Clearly if you can coordinate with locating data centers in an area with a focus on renewable energy, that's a good thing," he said. "But you ... need to consider cost-effective service."
Greenpeace counters that many corporations have the resources to scope out more sustainable ground.
"It is imperative that IT companies use their market power to make clean and reliable supply more available in addition to their advances in computing efficiency," says the organization's report "How Dirty Is Your Data?" "IT can help drive clean energy supply across the regions in which it operates."
Companies don't have to sacrifice cost-effectiveness to factor energy sources into data center siting, said Gary Cook, an author of the report.
A few of the leading U.S. tech companies have already made hefty investments in clean-sourced data centers. Yahoo has an operation in Washington state that draws from a power supply with renewables making up an estimated 88.5 percent of the mix. A new Amazon.com data center in Boardman, Ore., is expected to tap into a similar spread of clean energy.
All-renewable facilities are slowly sprouting up, too. Early-phase outfits in Iceland, Green Earth Data and GreenQloud, for example, both claim to offer 100 percent renewable energy, powered by the country's abundant geothermal and hydropower sources. These types of data centers may yet take hold widely, but for now remain sparse.
If business sense necessitates that a company opt for a fossil fuel-powered site, Cook says it should work with local government and utilities to add renewable power to the grid.
"They're right to look at [energy source] as a real cost," he said. "Our ask of the company is to be factoring in access to clean energy now and into the future."
As computing demand continues to swell worldwide, tech companies are well-positioned to cast the direction of development, he added.
"These are the innovators of the economy," he said. "Their footprint is only going to get bigger and bigger. Growth is not a bad thing; it's important for driving lower-carbon activity. It can be a springboard to building a green economy."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500