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James Hamilton at AWS re;Invent in Las Vegas
AWS Distinguished Engineer James Hamilton on stage at the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas. (Photos / Livestream)

Large-scale data centers consume huge amounts of power, but Amazon Web Services is making an effort to move more of its consumption to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

At the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas Tuesday night, AWS Distinguished Engineer James Hamilton pledged that they’ll have 50 percent of their data centers running on renewable energy by the end of 2017.

James Hamilton

That’s up from 25 percent renewable energy at the end of 2015, and 45 percent this year, which Hamilton said exceeds their original 40 percent goal for the year. AWS is striving to have its data centers running on 100 percent renewable energy, and that’s still a long-term achievable goal in the mind of Hamilton.

“For us to make that commitment, we at least have to see a path to get there,” he said. “We are not afraid of big challenges. We will sign up for difficult tasks, but we have to see a path where we can actually reasonably get there.”

Hamilton said that customers already can choose to have their data housed at a facility that runs on 100 percent renewable energy, but they would need to locate at the AWS data center in Oregon.

However, not everyone wants to do that, with some customers choosing to have their data housed nearby.

“There are many, many reasons to put data centers in different places, and it is just a fact that some of the places where customers want to put data today aren’t the cleanest power locations in the entire world,” he said. “We are signing up for a challenge because we have to make it right everywhere, and we are not going to do that by removing choice from customers. We are going to do both, because that’s the way it is at Amazon.”

While it has been a lot of hard work to achieve the renewable energy goals, Hamilton said that they are “super happy” about the progress so far, with AWS delivering about 2.6 million Megawatt hours annually of green power.

In October, Amazon Web Services announced its fifth renewable energy project, a 189-MW wind farm in Hardin County, Ohio — the company’s second in the Buckeye state. It also operates a 253-MW wind farm in Scurry County, Texas, and plans to bring on board a 280-MW farm in North Carolina in December. It also has an operational solar farm in Virginia.

Microsoft, which is one of Amazon’s primary competitors in cloud computing, said earlier this year that about 44 percent of the electricity used to power its data centers comes from renewable sources, with a goal to pass 50 percent by the end of 2018.

You can watch a video of Hamilton’s keynote below. The section discussing renewable energy begins at the 1:28:00 mark in the video.

Previously on GeekWire: Greening the cloud: How Amazon, Microsoft and Google are pursuing the goal of renewable power

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