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American data center builder Digital Realty has launched the Clean Start program, offering customers who sign a new lease renewable energy certificates (RECs) to match the amount of electricity they use, for the whole year.

This means that the company will subsidise renewable energy producers on behalf of its customers, even when the electricity itself does not come from renewable sources.

This initiative, available at any of Digital Realty’s sites worldwide, is a part of a broader effort by the company to encourage greener practices in the data center industry, with a range of new programs to be introduced in 2015.

Pattern Energy Wind Farm Hatchett Ridge California 2
Pattern Energy Wind Farm Hatchett Ridge California 2 – Pattern Energy

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RECs, also known as ‘Green tags’, are tradable, non-tangible energy commodities that represent proof that 1MWh of electricity was generated from an eligible renewable energy resource – be it wind, solar, geothermal, or biomass.

These certificates can be sold and traded or bartered. However, it is important to understand that the energy associated with a REC is sold separately and is used by another party. The consumer of a REC receives only a certificate, but they can honestly say they support sustainable energy production.

Under the terms of the Clean Start program, customers who sign a qualifying lease with a term of at least 12 months will automatically receive RECs equal to the amount of electricity they consume. After the first year of the lease term, clients can choose to pay to continue receiving clean energy credits through the program, or opt out.

Digital Realty says its RECs will be sourced near data center sites wherever feasible.

“The Clean Start Program will redefine the way the data center industry approaches sustainable energy,” said Aaron Binkley, director of sustainability at Digital Realty. “Our goal is to give clients an effortless path to procure clean, renewable energy for their data centers, and to take a leadership role in reducing the environmental footprint for the data center industry.”

The program could be seen as a response to a campaign by Greenpeace, which last year rated Digital Realty with a ‘D’ for its commitment to renewables.

“If [Digital Realty] made a commitment to renewable electricity, working to phase in clean energy in collaboration with its customers across the globe, the company would become a driving force for building a green internet, far bigger than even Google is currently,” the organisation said at the time.