Microsoft Data Center Turns to Natural Gas as a Backup

Microsoft Data Center Turns to Natural Gas as a Backup

By American Gas Magazine

CHEYENNE – Microsoft has a huge data center in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with massive electric needs and zero tolerance for outages. Up until now, it has always used diesel to fuel backup generators. But through its partnership with Black Hills Energy, the company is switching to natural gas.

“It’s a unique opportunity for Microsoft to change its philosophy of fuel storage,” said Shirley Welte, vice president of utility operations for Black Hills Energy.  “It’s a significant change in their approach.”

Black Hills Energy had already been providing Microsoft, its largest customer, with its electricity needs. The utility, which provides both electricity and natural gas in Wyoming, suggested the switch, pointing out the advantages, Welt told American Gas.  “We want to be the energy partner of choice,” she said.

Natural gas is more economical, Welte said, and the state has plenty available. It can be brought in through pipelines and used when needed, as opposed to being shipped in by truck like diesel. Unlike diesel, federal Environmental Protection Agency rules allow natural gas-powered generators to operate for longer periods of time.

A natural gas pipeline will be brought in a few miles from a nearby interstate pipeline, Welt said, and will be paid for by Microsoft. While it might be possible in the future for other customers to hook into the pipeline, it is being built specifically for Microsoft’s use, she said. As part of its agreement with Microsoft, Black Hills Energy will also be able to access Microsoft’s backup generation to make up for power deficits and ensure grid reliability when needed.

“By thinking creatively about our energy needs and assets at our data centers, we’re able to deliver an innovative solution in Wyoming … [that] serves as a model from which we all can learn,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer, in a blog post.

“This is an example of a major player in the world choosing natural gas,” Welte added. “It happened because we have a really strong business relationship with Microsoft. This will give them the opportunity to continue to expand.”

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