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Windy Politics Won’t Keep Tech Out Of Wind Power

Politicians may get votes by binning wind power, says Peter Judge, but tech firms still see the benefit

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Why is it that tech firms are scrambling to buy up wind power, while my government in Britain is trying to get out of it?

We’ve recently seen Microsoft buy 175MW of wind power in Illinois, after a previous big deal in Texas. Google meanwhile, has wind power deals in Texas and Sweden, as well as Oklahoma. Why would they do this, if wind power is such a huge money sink?

wind farm turbine renewable energy green sunset © Johan Swanepoel ShutterstockWind of change?

The tech giants want that power to drive their data centers, and using it helps them towards their goal of being climate neutral. Along with Apple, they are keen on solar power too.

Some national governments are also looking into wind power. It supplies five percent of the US grid, and round the world it’s the fastest growing source of renewable energy.

New figures show wind power is growing fast in the UK, with renewables as a whole making up 15 percent of our energy needs. But there’s a strong political backlash against wind power, and in favour of coal-fired generation.

It’s mostly based on prejudice against wind as a power supply. There’s a fairly typical piece of the genre here, describing an offshore wind farm as a “catastrophic folly”. Such negative reporting is having results. A giant 5GW wind farm off Wales, the Celtic Array,  has been scrapped. That is a blow for jobs and for the UK’s move to renewables (it would have boosted our renewable energy by maybe 30 percent), and it’s happening because of a political sea change against the wind.

It seems that wind detractors object to turbines on principle and then line up the facts to justify their feeling. Wind plants are criticised for receiving subsidies as the market develops, while well-established coal-fired plants will look better on paper.

Of course that doesn’t take into account the finite supply of coal, or the costs of the damage it will do the environment, or the simple need to establish other sources. The fact that wind turbines don’t operate continuously is presented as a shocking revelation by the wind critics – even though it’s a fact well known to anyone involved.

Yes, the supply is intermittent. That’s why there’s a huge effort in building a smart grid that is starting to match demand to the supply of power. Data centers are going to be part of that – both holding and crunching the data which will help make the grid more efficient, and themselves using power more effectively.

Generally, data centers are among the steadiest of loads, with servers running 24×7. But our telecoms incumbent, BT is having no trouble using the output of wind farms it effectively owns, and matching that to the needs of its own data centers.

It seems that politicians have found that turning against wind farms is a popular move – thanks to the anti-green lobby. Meanwhile, because they deal with the actuality not the emotion, business are finding just the opposite. Wind gives them access to a generous supply of renewable energy.

A version of this story appeared on Green Data Center News.

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Peter Judge
Author: Peter Judge
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