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Microsoft’s new data center campus: How can they make it sustainable?

The Mount Pleasant Village Board, on March 30, gave Microsoft the green light to purchase land to build USD 1 billion data center campus. Microsoft intends to build the data center on 315-acre land in the east section of Area III of Tax Increment District (TID) No. 5 from the Village. Readers would be interested in knowing that this 315-acre land is part of a larger 2,500-acre plot that was originally allocated for Foxconn’s USD 10 billion LCD manufacturing plant.

Following the approval, Village of Mount Pleasant President David DeGroot said in the press release that “For the Village of Mount Pleasant and our entire Racine County community, the potential benefits of Microsoft’s planned investment cannot be overstated. This project is an ideal fit for TID 5 and could attract additional high-quality growth for our area. The Village of Mount Pleasant looks forward to continued discussions with Microsoft regarding this incredible opportunity. We will continue to collaborate with Racine County as the Racine County Board considers the relevant agreements.”

The Mount Pleasant Village Board Approved three agreements-

  • The Purchase and Sale Agreement: Enables land transaction between both parties within TID 5 for $50,085,000
  • The Development Agreement: Notifies that Microsoft will construct the USD 1 billion data center campus on the land.
  • The Implementation Agreement: Agreement between involved parties (Village of Mount Pleasant, Racine County, and Foxconn) to facilitate the development of the project in TID 5.

The Racine County Board will consider the project at their April 11 and April 18 meetings. Development of Microsoft’s data center campus could start later this year if all approvals are granted. Microsoft will need permits, environmental clearances, financial arrangements, and more before beginning with the construction process. Until these approvals are obtained, the work cannot begin.

Once everything is in place, they can begin the construction process!

Challenges and implications of Microsoft’s data center campus project

Microsoft’s plan of building a new data center campus can reap significant benefits to the local economy and tech industry, but as with any large-scale construction project, there are challenges and potential implications that must be considered.

Going forward, Microsoft will have to think about its sustainability goals. In their 2021 sustainability report, they stated that “In each building at every campus and data center, sustainability is a key priority for Microsoft across all phases of a project— from site, selection to design and construction to operations and decommissioning.” Construction is one of the biggest contributors to CO2 emissions and firms globally are taking a sustainable approach to their operations.

Going net-zero

Decarbonizing construction is possible if firms are mindful of their approach. Designing energy-efficient structures and adopting EVs for mobility on construction sites are a few ways that can help construction firms cut their carbon footprints. Back in 2020, Microsoft announced its plans of going carbon negative by 2030 and by 2050, remove all of the company’s carbon emissions. The company states that they are pursuing Zero Carbon and LEED certifications for their data centers. “We have committed to certifying our Microsoft data centers and major offices to LEED Gold or Platinum—with a focus on the categories of energy and atmosphere, water efficiency, materials, and waste, location and transportation, sustainable sites, and indoor environmental conditions,” the company stated in their 2021 sustainability report. They also added that all their future data centers will be “LEED Gold certified with emphasis on water and energy conservation.”

100% decarbonized mobility in construction: Possible?

With the upcoming data center campus project, they will have to be mindful and focus on the 3 emission scopes-

  • Scope 1: Emissions directly created from activities like driving cars, and trucks that transport products from one place to another, generator emissions.
  • Scope 2: Indirect emissions from the production of heat or electricity that powers buildings.
  • Scope 3: Indirect emissions associated with different aspects of the value chain like materials used in the building, powering devices that produce concrete and steel, business travel, manufacturing, and more.

So how is Microsoft tackling these scopes? One way is pursuing Zero Carbon and LEED certifications that we mentioned above. Another way is taking AI’s aid for energy efficiency. The company stated that they used Bonsai, their AI platform to improve the energy efficiency of chiller plants at their Redmond campus. They noted a 12% increase in median efficiency. They will also deploy highly efficient LED with motion detectors to minimize the use of space light and design cooling systems that will run only when the servers require it.

Furthermore, they are transitioning towards 100% renewable energy. “By 2025, we expect to power our data centers and facilities with 100 percent additional, new renewable energy generation that matches our electricity consumption on an annual basis,” Microsoft stated in their 2021 sustainability report. The company is making efforts to reduce its dependency on diesel fuels and is moving towards electrifying kitchens and its transport fleet.

Microsoft’s tactics to eliminate the 3 emission scopes

Construction-related emissions come under scope 3 and Microsoft has a few tactics in place for dealing with them.

  • Data-driven decision making and tracking embodied carbon (carbon emitted during the manufacture and transport of building materials which accounts for 11% of emissions globally).
  • Using low-carbon building materials (timber, low GHG cement innovations like CarbonCure) to achieve net zero embodied carbon. “We are innovating and investing in low-carbon building materials across our global campuses and data centers with the aim to achieve net zero embodied carbon,” the company says.
  • Turning towards ‘sustainable traveling’ and supporting SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel) certifications for airlines.

It’ll be exciting to see the approach Microsoft takes once it gets the necessary approvals for the construction of its new data center campus. The climate change cloud looms over the world and there is “a pressing need for immediate action to mitigate its effects, and for that, firms need to collaborate on a global scale.

Construction will never stop, there will always be a new residential complex, mall, commercial space, and mall to develop. Designing sustainable buildings, adopting construction methods like prefab and modular construction, and using efficient transport in construction is the way to go. Everyone has to do their part, from clients, and stakeholders, to surveyors, CAD drafters, and building professionals, and all must make an effort to decarbonize construction.

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