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eBay installs a 6 megawatt minigrid to power a Utah data center.

As eBay expands and consolidates their data centers into just three centers in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada, they continue to break new ground in clean energy. Their newest exploit? Taking a data center off the grid by building their own power supply.

eBay currently operates two data centers in Utah, named Topaz and Quicksilver. Topaz, the larger of the two, boasts a 665 kilowatt solar panel array on the building and is already LEED Gold certified by the United States Green Building Council. And with this new construction, Quicksilver has the largest on-site non-utility fuel cell installation in the country, capable of putting out 6 megawatts of continuous power provided by solid oxide fuel cells.

These fuel cells create power by the reaction between methane and heated oxygen, which produces water, carbon dioxide, heat, and electricity. Utilizing such a system vastly diminishes carbon emissions that would have otherwise come from the state’s coal power plants. And, while the fuel cells themselves have high cost up front, such a system can never “go down” since each cell is independent from the next. This eliminates the need for Uninterrupted Power Supplies, gas-powered backup generators, and structural limitations on the data center itself. So, while expensive, the long-term benefits greatly outweigh the costs. The Quicksilver data center will still be connected to the utility power grid, but only as a backup should its own system somehow catastrophically fail.

This move may be the leading charge that data centers around the world need. In June, Amazon Web Services in Virginia went down for hours, taking Netflix, Pinterest, and Instagram with them. Hurricane Sandy recently ravaged the east coast of the USA, knocking out many more centers as well. If they had their own power supplies, a lot of downtime and recovery costs could have been avoided. And if more data centers adopt such a program, the world will end up a whole lot greener.