The burgeoning requirements for greater data storage and increased compute requirements that is being driven by the digital transformation is increasing the global burden on data centres. From software developers, through data centres and networks through to end-users, the pressure is on to make the digital transformation a sustainable transformation. When you compile a list the organisations that require massive computing power Salesforce is near the top of most lists.
Leading the sustainability drive for the San Francisco software company is Megan Lorenzen, the company’s sustainability manager. Lorenzen feels that for Salesforce, sustainability is an ongoing journey. “We are constantly working to better integrate sustainability into all that we do,” she says. “Through our global commitments and environmental policy, we have set high levels of environmental standards for our business.”
Putting data centres at the core
Data centre efficiency is at the heart of the company’s sustainability strategy. The focus is on minimising the data centre footprint by carefully considering platform design, leveraging multi-tenant architecture, and closely monitoring data centre performance. “Salesforce’s average PUE is consistently well below the industry average,” Lorenzen adds. “We are proud that we have also kept the average amount of carbon per transaction steady over the past four years while supporting a much greater number of customer transactions.”
She explains that they evaluate sustainability performance when selecting data centre partners on several factors such as gauging the amount of renewable energy in the local energy mix as well as the availability of tracking data such as the power usage effectiveness ratio (PUE). Additional sustainable site features such as free air-cooling and grey water usage are also a consideration.
Not all renewable energy is created equal
“We want a future in which clean and renewable energy is powering the world around the clock,” Lorenzen continues. “This will take a suite of actions, including trillions of dollars in investment, policy and regulatory changes, technology innovation, and much more.”
One step on that journey is the commitment to reach 100 per cent renewable energy by 2022. That means purchasing renewable energy equivalent to the amount of electricity used to power its global operations on an annual basis. “Purchasing renewable energy is about much more than just adding new megawatts of renewable energy to the grid,” Lorenzen says. “It is about improving the state of the world. We quickly learned that not all renewable energy is created equal. Two projects with identical transactional details can have enormously different impacts on the world.”
Relying on an energy matrix
To help identify projects that have the most significant positive impacts, and least negative ones, Salesforce created a renewable energy procurement matrix — a tool for scoring projects across different economic, environmental, and social criteria. “The Procurement Matrix is a sensing mechanism that helps us identify and select the best projects to purchase RE from,” Lorenzen explains. “When we are looking to make a purchase, we put out a request for proposal, which project developers respond to. We use the matrix to score those responses across transactional, economic, environmental and social criteria. Each criterion is weighted according to Salesforce’s own prioritisation. While we inevitably still must make trade-offs between these criteria, the step of asking developers about each criterion sends an important signal to the market. We have even successfully influenced developers to address shortcomings they had not prioritised beforehand.
“The more buyers and investors ask these questions, the stronger the signal to the market. Hopefully, with a strong enough signal, the industry will shift, and we will eventually have to make fewer trade-offs.”
The first step in Australia
Lorenzen explains that Australia was identified as one of several vital geographies that had the potential to maximise the positive benefits of renewable energy procurement. The result of this regional and project level analysis is Salesforce’s first international renewable energy agreement, with X-ELIO’s Blue Grass solar farm, located in Queensland, Australia. The 200 MW utility-scale solar farm is expected to be operational by the end of 2021 and will generate 420 GWh of renewable electricity per year. Salesforce has contracted with 25 per cent of the project, which in total is expected to save more than 320,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.
“The Blue Grass solar farm is an excellent example of how the matrix can help identify projects that better improve the state of the world,” Lorenzen adds. “While there will inevitably be trade-offs with these criteria, this project checks several boxes, including high avoided emissions, the low ecological value of the land and high levels of community engagement.
“By measuring the avoided emission potential of different renewable energy projects, we were able to identify projects that are particularly effective at reducing emissions, helping combat climate change. Blue Grass has the highest avoided emissions rate of any project in Salesforce’s portfolio, over two times that of a comparable project in California.
“The project is sited on land with low ecological value, avoiding sensitive vegetation and wildlife habitats. And in addition to creating 400 construction jobs, X-ELIO is dedicating a percentage of the annual gross income of the project to a Community Support and Benefit Sharing Program, which will support local community projects in areas such as education and community renewable projects.
“As our first international procurement, we had several critical learnings throughout the process. With any global market, numerous nuances differentiate the Australia market from the U.S. market. One challenge was that the Australian government was in the process of exploring the Coordination of Generation and Transmission Investment (COGATI) reforms – material regulatory changes to energy pricing. Specific details around what would be included in the COGATI reforms were unclear. Salesforce contemplated numerous strategies to navigate a Power Purchase Agreement amid the uncertainties of the COGATI reforms.
On course for 2021
Lorenzen says she is excited to be on the right track to reach the interim goal of 100 per cent renewable energy. “However, it is important to remember that our ultimate goal is a future in which clean and renewable energy is powering the world around the clock,” she concludes. “This will take a suite of actions, including trillions of dollars in investment, policy and regulatory changes, and much more.
“That is why another critical component of our climate action work is using our voice to advocate for policies that set geographies on a path to a just transition to a low-carbon economy.
“We believe that being transparent with our work not only holds ourselves accountable but helps others on their own journey. Stay tuned for more detail on our policy journey–because we know we cannot catalyse global systemic change alone.”