I love being a staff writer for 3BL Media/Justmeans on topics - Social Innovation, Social Enterprise and Social Entrepreneurs. When I am not writing for 3BL Media/Justmeans, I wear my other hat as owner of Serendipity PR. Over the years I have worked with high-profile, big, powerful brands and organisations within the public, not-for-profit and corporate sectors; and won awards from my industry....
EBay to Use Social Innovation in Alternative Power
EBay will be the first major tech company to use alternative power as a primary source to handle its data centres instead of the national power grid, which runs on coal plantsthough the new centres will still connect to the electricity grid for backup. EBay plans to use about six million watts of power generated on-site by fuel cells, which are a cleaner and more efficient source of energy than coal, at its new data centre in South Jordan, Utah. The company also operates PayPal, the online payment service, out of the South Jordan site.
Bloom Energy, a private company in Sunnyvale, California will make these social innovation fuel cells. Peter Gross, vice president of mission critical systems at Bloom, thinks that there's nothing currently comparable to the data centre redesign to be undertaken by eBay and says, "It is an extraordinary step to do something that has never been done before." The cells are large batteries whose charge is maintained by the hydrocarbon energy contained in natural gas. Although the Bloom cells function at high temperatures internally, the charge is maintained by chemical reactions, not combustion, so the efficiencies are much higher than at an ordinary power plant. The reactions produce mainly carbon dioxide and water and by generating power on-site, the fuel cells save energy that is normally dissipated as electricity runs though transmission lines.
The Bloom cells can also run on bio fuel, a social innovation by-product of landfills and animal waste at large industrial farms. Annie Lescroart, an eBay spokeswoman, said that in another bow to the environment, the company would pay a premium to enable the production of biogas somewhere in the U.S. in amounts comparable to its gas usage in South Jordan.
EBay relies on large amounts of computing power to carry out its mission of connecting buyers and sellers among its 102 million active users. The company estimates that through its services men's ties are sold every 25 seconds, a pair of women's jeans every 17 seconds, and a piece of golf equipment every 7.1 seconds. It handled $69 billion in transactions in 2011. It's estimated that transactions flow through eBay's computers at the rate of roughly $2,000 a second.
As a result, these computers consume large amounts of energy: eBay believes its data centres will use an average of 43 million watts in 2012. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that in the U.S. 1 million watts powers about 600 homes. So, moving some of that load to social innovation fuel cells from the grid would be a big positive difference. A shift that, hopefully, other companies will think aboutthat's if they're serious about reducing their carbon footprint.
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