Fuel Cells Make Interconnection More Sustainable

Karl Strohmeyer
Fuel Cells Make Interconnection More Sustainable

Interconnection has become critical to digital business success. We know this because of the demand we see for it in our data centers today, and the even higher forecasts for future demand. This foreshadows a spike in global energy usage that Equinix and every other company working in the digital economy must reckon with.

Our recent agreement to expand the use of Bloom Energy fuel cells in our data centers is one key way we’re decreasing the overall impact of a growing digital economy on the planet.

According to research in the Global Interconnection Index, a new market study published by Equinix, Interconnection Bandwidth capacity is projected to reach an estimated 5,000 terabits per second by 2020. That kind of interconnection will require significant power output to support it.

The partnership between Equinix and a subsidiary of the energy company Southern Company calls for the installation of Bloom Energy fuel cells at 12 Equinix data centers in New Jersey and California. The project will generate more than 37 megawatts of power, reducing the stress on the local energy grid in sites where the fuel cells are installed and saving us an estimated 660,000 tons of carbon emissions. Plus, we’re supporting an innovative technology that’s only increasing in prominence.


In an analysis of the deal, 451 Research called it a “key milestone” in our commitment to invest in clean technology innovations. “Equinix has the resources, will and technological expertise to drive the use of renewable energy throughout the datacenter industry,” the analysis read.

We announced the agreement with Bloom Energy last month following the release of our second annual Corporate Sustainability report, and it reinforces what we made clear in the report: Equinix is dedicated to ensuring that the advantages of our increasingly interconnected world come at the lowest possible impact to our environment, and the greatest benefit for the people and places around us.

Cleaner, cost-effective, cooler (literally)

Fuel cells were invented more than a century ago, but they’ve historically been limited by high costs, as the cells often required expensive metals, and their operation was complicated by the use of corrosive acids or molten materials.

The emergence of the solid oxide fuel cell, made of less expensive ceramic materials, cleared the way for broader fuel cell use, but it still presented engineering problems because it operates at extremely high temperatures. Bloom Energy solved that with a new design that combined new materials and an all-electric solution that made fuels cells cleaner, and more reliable and affordable.

Bloom describes their solid oxide fuel as a “battery that always runs.” It generates energy though an electrochemical process that uses air and fuel, and leaves behind only water and traces of carbon dioxide. Sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxide and other smog-causing particulate emissions are virtually eliminated.

We’ve had Bloom Energy fuel cells operating with great success in our SV5 data center in Silicon Valley since 2015. By expanding our collaboration with Bloom Energy, we’re increasing our commitment to cleaner energy with a unique technology that customers at our data centers can see and touch. We’re also boosting our customers’ efforts to clean up their digital supply chains.

Fuel cells on both coasts

The agreement with Bloom is power purchase only, meaning that even though the fuel cells will be installed at our data centers, we won’t own them, install them or maintain them. For the 15-year term of the deal, these are all in the expert hands of Bloom Energy. We are excited to report we have already completed installation at two of the 12 locations, and those systems are operational. We expect the remaining projects to be phased in by the end of 2018.

By then, Equinix will have 14 fuel cell sites, counting the new installations (11, plus the enhancement of the existing Bloom fuel cell site at SV5), a Bloom cell at LA7 and a non-Bloom fuel cell at NY13. The LA7 and NY13 fuel cells came to us in this year’s acquisition of 29 former Verizon data centers in North and Latin America. This is the largest deployment of fuel cells in the colocation industry.

Here’s a list of the facilities, by metro, that will be hosting new fuel cell projects:

  • Silicon Valley: SV1, SV2, SV3, SV4, SV5, SV6, SV10
  • New York: NY2, NY3, NY4
  • Los Angeles: LA3, LA4

With the expansion of our partnership with Bloom, we’re deploying fuel cells on both U.S. coasts. We’re also increasing the prominence of a cleaner energy source that’s not as well-known as sources like wind and solar, but which can make an appreciable difference as we deploy multiple strategies to improve our sustainability and shrink our carbon footprint. A key difference between fuel cells and other renewable power sources is that it’s an always-on, 24/7 energy source, which fits the non-negotiable needs of the data center industry for highly reliable power.

Power from fuel cells is 20% to 45% cleaner than the equivalent natural gas-powered generation from a utility. And over its lifetime, this latest fuel cells project will save 87 billion gallons of water, compared to what would have been used by traditional natural gas or coal-fired generation.

The title of our Corporate Sustainability report this year is “Connecting with Purpose.” With this deal with Bloom Energy, we hope our purpose and our priorities at Equinix are clear: We are committed to advancing sustainability, clean energy technology and our business in ways that have lasting, positive impacts on all our stakeholders.

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