Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
The company that changed the nature of online shopping is now at work in Utah on a plan that could change the way large data processing facilities consume energy.
EBay recently announced it will undertake a massive expansion of its data center in South Jordan, and the new facility will operate entirely on renewable energy. The reaction in technology and energy sectors has been nothing short of electric.
The Utah facility is the company's primary installation for processing billions of dollars of online transactions, a task that consumes enormous amounts of electricity. The expanded plant will hook up to the national electricity grid only for backup purposes, relying on new fuel cell technology that offers an environmentally cleaner and potentially less expensive source of large scale power.
Those with expertise in the field say the project is creative and unprecedented. That it is happening here is more evidence that Utah is taking a leading role in the theater of technological innovation.
The fuel cells operate like large batteries whose power is sustained by hydrocarbon energy contained in natural gas or, alternatively, by use of "biomass" products created by plumbing methane gas from landfills and other sources. It is considered "green" energy and as a result, environmentalists are loudly applauding the scope of eBay's commitment in Utah.
It should also be noted that the project is a sterling example of how a commitment to alternative energy may evolve in a free market arena. EBay clearly envisions economic benefits to going off the grid. The facility will have 30 fuel cells in close proximity, thereby reducing the amount of power that is lost when it is transmitted over long distances. And it means less reliance on electricity that is generated by burning coal.
"Cheaper and cleaner" translates into a win-win situation for environmentalists and an industry that gobbles up enormous rations of kilowatts on a daily basis, and eBay's appetite is among the heartiest.
The company estimates its data centers will consume 43 million watts of electricity this year, enough to provide a year's worth of power to the entire city of Ogden.
The decision to go off the grid is not without risk. The company processes an estimated $2,000 worth of transactions every second. A sustained power outage could be more than a little disruptive to its revenue stream, not to mention its reputation. But successful innovation doesn't happen by playing it safe.
EBay made its fortune by allowing online buyers and sellers of all kinds of products and services to negotiate the value of a transaction. For the growing tech sector of Utah's economy, it's hard to undervalue the investment eBay has chosen to make in South Jordan.
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