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Microsoft to ditch diesel backup power by 2030 to meet carbon negative commitment

Written by Wed 22 Jul 2020

The tech giant pledged to be carbon negative by 2030 earlier this year

Microsoft has detailed how it plans to meet its ambitious goal of becoming carbon negative by 2030.

The pledge, made by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, President Brad Smith, and Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood in January, is the most sweeping carbon commitment made by any company.

At the time, Microsoft said it was working on an initiative to reducing its carbon, water, waste footprints and promote biodiversity, but offered few details on what this initiative would entail.

But in a new blog post, Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Officer, outlined the seven pillars of the company’s green plan.

They include changes to backup power at the company’s data centres, a private-sector coalition to accelerate the net-zero carbon economy, a tool that helps companies calculate cloud-related emissions, and the first round of investments from the company’s new $1 billion Climate innovation fund.

Ditching diesel

Joppa said Microsoft will no longer use diesel-powered generators for backup power by 2030, saying the tech giant was “charting a new course” to use low-carbon fuel sources, including hydrogen and energy storage.

“We recognize the challenges this might entail and that we need help in developing a robust supply chain for these fuels and advancements in battery technology, but we’re ready to work with partners across the world while leveraging investments from our Climate Innovation Fund to make this a reality,” Joppa said.

When it comes to backup power, diesel generators are still widely considered the most cost-effective and reliable means of ensuring continuous power and remain the preferred option for many operators, despite their high-particulate and CO2 emissions.

Hydrogen has been long-touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to diesel as its combustion does not produce greenhouse gas emissions, but the fuel’s environmental credentials depend on how much carbon was used to produce it.

In May, Rolls-Royce and Daimler announced a collaboration on hydrogen fuel cell emergency power generators for data centres and mission-critical systems. And last month, Singapore-based designer and operator Keppel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced a partnership to research hydrogen power plants for data centres.

Cross-sector transformation

Microsoft also announced a private-sector coalition to accelerate the net-zero carbon economy, that will bring together industry leaders with some of the world’s most ambitious carbon goals to develop playbooks on how to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

The founding members include A.P. Moeller – Maersk, Danone, Mercedes-Benz AG, Microsoft, Natura & Co., Nike, Starbucks, Unilever and Wipro.

Microsoft said the coalition will focus on ensuring that the transition to a low-carbon economy “is an equitable and just one”.

Cloud carbon calculator

Microsoft has also launched a new cloud carbon calculator in private preview to help Azure customers monitor carbon emissions resulting from their cloud usage.

The Microsoft Sustainability Calculator uses AI and advanced analytics to advise companies on how to reduce emissions and can forecast expected emissions.

“The Microsoft Sustainability Calculator provides our cloud customers transparency into their total carbon emissions – Scopes 1, 2 and 3 – resulting from their cloud usage,” Joppa said.

“Microsoft is the only cloud provider to provide full transparency to customers across all three scopes of emissions,” he added.

Carbon removal

Microsoft’s climate commitments require it to cut its carbon emissions in half by 2030 and “remove” the rest, including its historical emissions since it was founded in 1975.

To achieve this, Microsoft said it was “taking concrete steps” to remove 1 million metric tons of carbon from the environment.

The first step will be to issue a request for proposal (RFP) to source carbon removal from a range of nature- and technology-based solutions that are net-negative and “verified to a high degree of scientific integrity”.

“Each project will be rigorously vetted and verified by Microsoft as well as our third-party scientific and market advisors, including NGO Winrock International and the advisory firm Carbon Direct, which brings together leading climate science academics,” Joppa said.

“This is a first-of-its-kind approach and we don’t expect to get everything right. We will learn what works and doesn’t, improving our approach along the way. We will also publicly share our learnings from this process so others can accelerate their own carbon removal efforts.”

Environmental justice

Microsoft also announced a partnership with Sol Systems to develop a portfolio of 500MW solar energy projects in US communities disproportionately affected by environmental challenges.

This investment is the second-largest renewable energy portfolio investment Microsoft has ever made and is enough energy to power more than 70,000 homes in the US per year.

“As a result of this agreement, Microsoft will be closer to achieving its goals of shifting to 100% renewable energy by 2025 and help address issues of climate equity and environmental justice,” Joppa said.

Written by Wed 22 Jul 2020

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