Conscious cloud: our Aotearoa datacenter pledge Microsoft’s datacenter region powered by 100% carbon free energy from day one

 |   Russell Craig, Microsoft New Zealand National Technology Officer

Microsoft’s forthcoming New Zealand “datacenter region”, comprising three separate datacenters, is set to usher in a new era of tech acceleration in this country, bringing hyperscale public cloud capabilities on a scale never before seen in New Zealand.

But amid the enormous excitement about what these investments will bring, it’s not surprising questions are now being asked about how well our local energy infrastructure – and our precious environment – can cope with all this new development.

As a business with some serious sustainability commitments – such as becoming carbon negative by 2030, and removing all historical carbon from the environment by 2050 – these aren’t questions we can afford to ignore. One of our global sustainability commitments is to use 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025. For the New Zealand datacenter region, we’re building to the highest possible standards from day one.

I’m therefore delighted that Microsoft has signed an agreement with sustainable electricity retailer, Ecotricity, to ensure our datacenter region is powered by 100 per cent carbon free energy from its opening. Microsoft will only be using Toitū net carbonzero certified electricity sourced from solar, wind and hydro.

Al Yates, Co-Founder and CEO of Ecotricity, is “excited about the opportunity to support Microsoft and their decarbonisation goals. Developments, such as this, will help accelerate construction of new renewable energy sources to get NZ to a 100% renewable energy grid by 2030 – a journey which Ecotricity is proud to be leading.”

And this is not where our renewable energy aspirations end. In addition, Microsoft is hoping to incentivise investment in net new generation of renewable energy.

As Noelle Walsh, our Corporate Vice President, Cloud Operations and Innovation, wrote in a recent blog: “Customers already benefit from the cloud’s ability to provide massive efficiency that reduces the collective carbon footprint required to support the world’s compute needs. Even so, the increasing demand for cloud leads to increasing demand for datacenters, which require power, land and water to operate. We – and the cloud industry – face an important challenge as a result: scaling our computing power to progress digital economies, research and inclusive economic opportunities – while also helping to preserve the only planet we have.”

So, we’re meeting the challenge head-on.

In New Zealand, we’re determined to unlock huge new opportunities for local businesses and society through better access to efficient, cutting-edge technologies, while making our local datacenter region the most sustainable yet.

Worldwide, we’re also on a mission to protect more land than we use by 2025 and be water positive by 2030 – replenishing more water than we consume. So, what does this mean for water use in Aotearoa? Our local datacenter region will be water-free and will be using air cooling to store your data at the right temperature.

And not only that, we’re focused on enabling other organisations to accelerate their decarbonisation as well. In our recent report on our nation’s progress towards carbon zero, Accelerating the Journey to Net Zero, we found a “green gap” between local businesses’ ambitions on sustainability and their actions.

One of the key findings by lead researcher, Dr Chris Brauer of Goldsmiths University, was that migrating to sustainable cloud from less efficient on-premises infrastructure was a simple but important step Kiwi organisations could take to help our whole country transition faster. Another important finding was the challenge many NZ organisations face in regard to actually measuring their carbon emissions, as a vital first step toward managing them, so we are looking forward to helping customers adopt our new Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability service.

If you’ve ever studied actual clouds, you’ll know they’re monumentally heavy, despite their fluffy appearance. But here on earth, we need to ensure cloud weighs as little as possible. That’s why we’re  building a datacenter region that helps create a cloud dividend for Aotearoa – one that supports us all to lighten our carbon footprints sooner.