Choosing to Go Green

Christopher Hankin photo

Yesterday eBay Inc. formally opened its new Salt Lake City data center – a world class facility that is on track to help facilitate an estimated $300 billion in enabled commerce volume by 2015.  Long story short, eBay is proving that environmental considerations can go hand-in-hand with good business strategy, and many transactions on eBay and PayPal will now be a little bit greener.  
The data center is primarily powered by thirty fuel cells, devices that turn fuel like natural gas into electricity through a chemical reaction.  Additionally, eBay is developing an off-site waste heat recovery solution that is expected in 18 months to provide the new data center with up to 5 MW of electricity by capturing and converting heat from the natural gas pipeline (the same one feeding the thirty fuel cells).  The data center will thus use the local power grid only as a backup power source, not only as an environmental step, but also making the data center more reliable and immune to grid blackouts.  More info is available at this blog from Dean Nelson and Lori Duvall.   
As a policy wonk, I am truly impressed by what eBay accomplished last year with the Utah state government.   Up till March 2012, Utah law had not allowed non-utility power directly from renewable energy developers.   With 94% of the state's electricity coming from coal, this was a major disincentive to companies like eBay that were looking to grow their business while also reducing their environmental footprint.  Thanks to eBay, that changed.  Collaborating with Republican State Senator Mark Madsen, and other stakeholders, they developed and then enacted Senate Bill 12, getting unanimous approval in both the Utah State Senate and House of Representatives.  Senate Bill 12 enables energy users in Utah, for the first time, to buy and transmit power directly from cleaner energy developers.   
For Utah, the bill's passage created a unique economic development opportunity and opened the state to new players who are leading the transition to a clean energy economy.  For eBay, it made it possible to yesterday announce — and show off — their innovations to go green and make money doing so.

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