TOP PLANT: Amazon Wind Farm Fowler Ridge, Benton County, Indiana

Amazon

Owner/operator: Pattern Energy

Just as Seattle’s Amazon.com jumpstarted the online shopping trend, it’s now part of another trend that has major corporations owning or contracting for sizable grid-connected renewable power facilities. A new wind farm in rural Indiana is part of that story.

Cloud computing is big business, and it’s growing as fast as cumulous clouds on a summer afternoon. Surveys and projections value the public cloud (not including the cloud serving the Industrial Internet) at somewhere between $110 billion and $204 billion and anticipate compound annual growth rates of anywhere between 16.5% and 38.4%. Amazon Web Services (AWS) alone generated $7.88 billion in revenue in just the fourth quarter of 2015—up 69% over the previous year; most recently, for the second quarter of 2016, revenue was $2.88 billion, up 58% year over year.

The “cloud” enables customers of all sizes to contract for remote data storage and computing services at data centers operated by third parties such as AWS, a subsidiary of Amazon.com that provides a variety of cloud computing services in 190 countries to customers in multiple industries. As one indication of how physical energy products and internet-connected digital capabilities are becoming intertwined, customers listed on the AWS website include Siemens and GE Oil & Gas.

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Cloud-based services enable more affordable scaling as business needs grow while eliminating the need for in-house server maintenance. It can also reduce energy consumption and make data management and processing less carbon-intensive. According to AWS, “A typical large-scale cloud provider achieves approximately 65% server utilization rates versus 15% on-premises.” Additionally, a typical on-premises data center is 29% less efficient with power usage than a “typical large-scale cloud provider that uses world-class facility designs, cooling systems, and workload-optimized equipment.” Combined, moving to the cloud can deliver [an] 84% reduction in power needs.

Beyond energy efficiency, AWS is looking to make its carbon footprint even smaller. In 2014 it made a long-term commitment to using 100% renewable power for its global cloud services. Though no specific date has been placed on that “long-term commitment,” the total megawatt value of that sourcing goal is likely a moving target as the AWS business grows. The company says it and other large-scale cloud-computing providers already use a power mix that is 28% less carbon-intensive than the global average. By April 2015, roughly 25% of AWS’s power consumption globally was from renewable sources. Its goal is to reach 40% by the end of this year, and a wind farm in Indiana is helping it get there.

Powering Clouds with Wind

It’s poetically fitting that a cloud services company is getting increasing amounts of its energy from the wind and the sun. The 150-MW Amazon Wind Farm Fowler Ridge (Fowler Ridge) is expected to generate approximately 500,000 MWh annually. All of the project’s output will be purchased by AWS and fed to the local grid, which serves AWS data centers in the area.

The project was developed by independent power company Pattern Energy after purchasing the project from Pattern Energy Group LP (Pattern Development), the company’s main shareholder, in 2015. Fowler Ridge was financed with equity rather than debt: Pattern Energy has an owned interest of 116 MW, and institutional tax equity investors acquired the balance.

The project was completed on schedule in January and was officially dedicated on August 5 (see Table 1 and Figure 1).

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Table 1. Key Amazon Wind Farm Fowler Ridge project dates. Source: Pattern Energy, Amazon Web Services

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1. Grand opening dedication ceremony at the 150-MW Amazon Wind Farm Fowler Ridge. Courtesy: Pattern Energy

Fowler Ridge consists of 65 Siemens 2.3-MW wind turbines whose turbine blades, nacelles, towers, and transformers were manufactured in the U.S. Turbine blades were manufactured at the Siemens factory in Ft. Madison, Iowa; nacelles were manufactured at the Siemens factory in Hutchinson, Kansas; turbine towers were made in Wisconsin by Broadwind and in Michigan by Ventower; and the 67 pad-mount transformers came from the Siemens facility in Richland, Miss.

“Siemens is proud that workers at our factories in the Midwest produced the turbines for the Amazon Wind Farm Fowler Ridge, which continues an exciting trend of technology companies and major corporations turning to wind power for their energy needs. As wind becomes an increasingly important part of our nation’s energy mix, we are pleased to partner once again with Pattern Energy to deliver sustainable and affordable wind energy,” said Jacob Andersen, CEO Onshore Americas, Siemens Wind Power and Renewables Division at the dedication.

If you’ve only seen wind turbines in photos or from a distance, they can seem deceivingly simple and small—compared with traditional power facilities—especially as they are often spread out across wide open areas. But up close, their size is substantial. The models used for Fowler Ridge have a nacelle that sits about as high as a 26-story building, and the blades sweep an area roughly the size of a football field.

An average of 175 workers were on site during construction, which was managed by Mortenson Construction, with up to 300 workers on site during peak construction activity. Ten full-time permanent workers operate and maintain the facility.

Fowler Ridge is expected to add an estimated $45 million over 25 years to the regional economy through property taxes, landowner royalties, and support for local causes, according to Pattern Energy.

An Industry-Changing Trend

In addition to the Fowler Ridge project, Amazon signed three other power purchase agreements in 2015 that launched these renewable developments:

 

■ The 80-MW Amazon Solar Farm US East is a photovoltaic facility in Accomack County, Virginia, that is expected to generate approximately 170,000 MWh annually.

■ The 208-MW Amazon Wind Farm US East is located in Perquimans and Pasquotank Counties in North Carolina and is expected to generate approximately 670,000 MWh annually, starting in December 2016. AWS notes that this will be the first utility-scale wind farm in the state when it is completed.

■ The 100-MW Amazon Wind Farm US Central in Paulding County, Ohio, is expected to generate approximately 320,000 MWh annually, starting in May 2017.

 

The trend of large corporations becoming key renewable energy project partners (see POWER Points sidebar) extends beyond AWS. As Associate Editor Aaron Larson reported earlier this year, Enel Green Power North America (EGP-NA) began construction on the 400-MW Cimarron Bend wind farm in Kansas in the second quarter of 2016. The project is EGP-NA’s first to sell power to a nonutility off-taker, which a company spokesman said was a key factor in the development. Half of the power will be sold to Google, while the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities takes the other half.

Hannah Hunt, senior analyst with the American Wind Energy Association told POWER that 51% of contracted wind capacity in 2015 was bought by nonutility corporations. Early adopters included technology companies, like Google, that wanted to supply data centers with renewable energy. But now, others, such as Dow Chemical, Proctor and Gamble, and Target, are beginning to view wind energy as a low-risk, cost-competitive option, Hunt said.

At the dedication of Fowler Ridge, Pattern Energy President and CEO Mike Garland said, “We commend AWS on its vision and leadership in cloud computing and its commitment to sustainability. This demonstrates the strong and growing appetite for wind power from the country’s leading corporations.” In the video, Garland went even further, saying that AWS’s commitment to 100% renewables is “helping change the fundamentals of the industry.”■

Gail Reitenbach, PhD is POWER’s editor.