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Microsoft: Data and data centers to drive fourth industrial revolution

03 Oct 2016

“We are at the cusp of a transformation – as a society, as an industry and as a company.”

Those are the compelling words delivered by Microsoft’s chief environmental and cities strategist Rob Bernard, speaking at VERGE 16 earlier this month.

According to Bernard, as the world begins to tap the power of the cloud to address today’s challenges, we must ensure we build a responsible cloud as ‘tremendous’ amounts of energy will be required to power our data-driven world.

“The world is experiencing the very real effects of climate change, including extreme weather, droughts, air quality problems and the warming of our oceans,” Bernard says.

“But against this backdrop of significant and global scale challenges, we are also seeing incredible innovation and change happening, driven by technology and enabled by the cloud.”

Bernard says we are entering a new era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. He says the the past 250 years has seen a few select inventions, namely the steam engine, electrification and the microprocessor, spur the past three industrial revolutions and ‘catalysed human progress’.

Bernard says the fourth will be driven by data – ‘the electricity of our age’, as well as the datacenters that will make this massive use of data possible.

“These technological innovations have the ability to transform the way we address societal issues related to sustainability at scale,” Bernard explains.

“Already, we are seeing cloud-based technologies make a meaningful impact around the world. The cloud is helping companies and communities tackle water scarcity, reduce fuel consumption by public transportation, adopt clean energy like solar power, improve food resiliency in a changing climate, and understand and predict changes in the ocean,” he says.

“As we begin to tap the power of the cloud to address these challenges, we must also ensure that we are building a responsible cloud,” says Bernard.

“Tremendous amounts of energy will be required to power this data-driven revolution. The leading cloud companies have a responsibility to address this energy usage,” he says.

“And Microsoft believes that, as large energy consumers, we have the opportunity to drive change that will benefit not only our company but the world.”

According to Bernard, this is behind Microsoft’s announcement earlier this year of its new, principled approach to ‘helping advance a clean energy future’.

“We committed to greater transparency, including reporting our energy consumption across regions and the mix of sources for the power we use, while continuing to report our total energy consumption and impact of our carbon programme,” Bernard explains.

“We also committed to improving our energy mix, setting a goal to grow the percent of wind, solar and hydropower energy we purchase directly and through the grid to 50% by 2018, 60% early in the next decade and to an ongoing and higher percentage in years beyond that,” he says.

To date, the company is at 44% and has signed a new deal to bring 20 megawatts of new solar energy onto the grid in Virginia earlier this year.

"And we continue to support public policies designed to accelerate the availability and affordability of renewable energy on the grid,” Bernard adds.

“For example, in April we signed a joint amicus brief in support of the White House’s Clean Power Plan, which is expected to enter oral arguments later this month.”

Bernard says Microsoft is seeing great progress in its research projects aimed at transforming energy efficiency.

“In August, we, along with our partners, announced new research showing that how next generation battery technology that stores energy can act as resources to improve reliability, energy efficiency and usability of renewable energy on the grid,” he explains.

“These commitments will help us build a responsible cloud that benefits the world,” says Bernard.

“Microsoft has exceptional capabilities to address not only our energy footprint, but also to create and deliver innovative solutions that will help address environmental challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

“We are up for the challenge,” he adds. 

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