Greenpeace Dings Apple’s NC Data Center for Dirty Energy

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Environmental group Greenpeace has dinged Apple for relying on dirty energy for the data center the company is building in North Carolina. In a report titled “How Dirty Is Your Data?,” Greenpeace rated several technology firms — including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and more — and their large data centers, criticizing most of them for locating those data centers in areas reliant on coal and nuclear power, and for being less-than-transparent on how their cloud operations use energy.

How Dirty Is Your Data?

Greenpeace Cover

“These mega data centres, which will draw from some of the dirtiest generation mixes in the US, highlights the sway of low-cost energy, misplaced tax incentives, and a corresponding lack of commitment to clean energy,” Greenpeace wrote in its report.

The group believes that growing data centers and other cloud services currently consume between 1.5% and 2% of the world’s electricity, and that this consumption is growing at a rate of 12% per year. The report was issued to put pressure on companies to be more transparent on how they are using energy at their data centers, and to consider clean energy availability when siting their infrastructure.

Report Card

All told, the report covers data center energy use at ten technology giants, all American, including: Akamai, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo! The companies were graded on Transparency, Infrastructure Siting, Mitigation Strategy. Each company’s clean energy use and the mix of coal energy are also reported.

In the report card below, you can see that the highest grade any firm earned was a “B” (only four “B” grades were issued), with the rest being a mix of “C,” “D,” and “F” grades. Apple received a “C” in Transparency, an “F” in Infrastructure Siting, and a “C” in its mitigation strategy. Apple also had the worst clean energy index with just 6.7% of its cloud computing energy being clean, and not continentally, the worst coal intensity percentage, with 54.5% of that energy coming from coal.

 

Greenpeace Report Card

Greenpeace’s Clean Cloud Power Report Card

Corporate Communication

Greenpeace praised Apple for its transparency and for the environmental footprint of its products, “especially laptops and iPhones.” Greenpeace had been critical of Apple in the past for using toxic chemicals in the production of its products, and Apple subsequently took a much more aggressive stance on reducing the use of those substances. That, in turn, led to Greenpeace praising Apple repeatedly for making its products more green.

In giving Apple a “C” on transparency relating to its cloud initiatives, Greenpeace said the company, “has not been as forthcoming on the current or expected impacts of its online products [emphasis added for clarity]. Though many IT companies have pointed to the benefits of downloading entertainment over traditional delivery methods, one of the largest online destinations for such media – iTunes - does not provide any data to evaluate these claims or allow comparison with offerings from other vendors.”

Greenpeace also scolded Apple for not participating in the Carbon Disclosure Project voluntary reporting program.

Location, Location, Location

Apple got an “F” for choosing North Carolina as the site for its newest data center. Apple, Google, and Facebook all have large data centers within a few miles of each other in the state (Apple’s facility in Maiden, NC, is the largest of the three).

The problem, according to Greenpeace, is that this area primarily gets its power from Duke Energy, which generates most of its power from coal, and most of the rest from nuclear, the two forms of energy generation that Greenpeace rates the lowest in terms of being green.

“Apple’s decision to locate its iDataCenter in North Carolina, which has an electrical grid among the dirtiest in the country (61% coal, 31% nuclear), indicates a lack of a corporate commitment to clean energy supply for its cloud operations,” Greenpeace wrote. “The fact that the alternative location for Apple’s iDataCenter was Virginia, where electricity is also comes from very dirty sources, is an indication that, in addition to tax incentives, access to inexpensive energy, regardless of its source, is a key driver in Apple’s site selection.”

Buying & Sourcing Clean Energy

The third grade each company received was for their plans and strategies for mitigating their power usage. For instance, Google got a “B” in part because the company committed to buying 114 megawatts of wind power, and for other steps the company has made to source its energy from clean and renewable forms.

Twitter, on the other hand, got an “F” for moving its operations to an area in Utah that relies almost entirely on coal power. Facebook got a “D” for “not providing any additional mitigation strategies or effort to procure and make investment in nearby renewable energy generation.”

Apple received praise from Greenpeace for increasing how much clean energy the company is buying, and for saying that it would buy green energy wherever it could.

“However,” Greenpeace wrote, “Apple has not declared a renewable energy or greenhouse gas target to shape this commitment. The massive iDataCenter has estimated electricity demand (at full capacity) as high as triple Apple’s current total reported electricity use, which will unfortunately have a significant impact on Apple’s environmental footprint.”

Apple’s grade in this category was a “C.”

After having successfully increased the spotlight on the environmental impact of producing electronic goods, Greenpeace’s newest aim appears to similarly get people and corporations thinking about how the growing “cloud” of online computing services will be developed, sited, and powered. The report issued Thursday offers a comprehensive look at the ten companies examined, and it is likely to stir up interest in the subject.

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Comments

gotta wonder

How much coal and nuclear power did Greenpeace consume while compiling their report card?

furbies

I wonder. If the more rabid “greenies” had their way and we were all forced to go back to living in caves, and having fires for heat & light and using stone tablets to record information, would they still complain about us still using non renewable resources (wood & stone) ? </sarcasm>

brian

get a clue, wonder boy and furbies.  using the techniques outlined in the report - especially for corporations with the resources of apple, google, etcetera - is an easy way to produce and promote the use of less greenhouse gases.  and every little bit helps (even if you use energy to write a comprehensive report making companies and consumers more aware of their negative practices).

maybe you didn’t notice the climate change phenomena inside hummer this winter during the ridiculous snow storms, or perhaps you were stuck inside your own 72 degree cave last summer.  but wherever you are, do me a favor…  wake up and realize the coffee may not be there for your children.

oh, and i wonder if duke energy supplies power to the unc campus…

Fastflyer

Who gives a rat’s patootie what Greenpeace has to say. What product of value did they ever produce that fills a need and people want to buy, except mountains of bologna. They live off money donated by dupes. Carbon dioxide is fertilizer, not pollution.
Earth Day (April 22)
Whacko predictions made by environmentalists in 1970, the year the event was founded: a new Ice Age (Newsweek); a world “eleven degrees colder by the year 2000” (Kenneth Watt); by 1985 air pollution to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half (Life magazine); by 1995 between 75 and 85 percent of all species to be extinct (Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson); mass starvation (Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes). I was there and young and yes stupid.
They are still at it. Follow the money. No crisis, no money.

gnasher729

I recommend googling for “wind energy death”. An incredible number of people have died in accidents related to the production of wind energy, if these numbers were extrapolated to the amount of energy produced by coal, it would be absolutely horrific.

Substance

I understand what GreenPeace is trying to do here but there message is so oversimplified it’s impossible to take it seriously.

While burning coal does create a lot of air pollution, society would collapse today without it.  No reasonable amount of windmills will be able to replace the energy that we get from burning coal. 

So where else do we get energy?  Hydroelectric is often cited as the next cleanest form of energy behind wind power because it produces practically no pollutants.  But the disruption to natural habitats caused by the resovoirs created behind the damns is in many ways of greater ecological impact than burner fossil fuels.

Nuclear power is pretty clean, so long as you have a place to store the waste and can avoid being knocked out by disasters.  Even a former president of Greenpeace is advocating nuclear power.

And there’s at least some ways to make the burning of coal cleaner.

Point is, there are no ideal answers and every choice for where we get our has pros and cons.

Ultimately power consuption is what has to change.  Rather than focusing just on where the energy comes from, which is often more in nature’s hands than anyone else, how much of it is consumed should be at least as important.  And that turns the focus on the consumer (i.e. you and me) and not the provider of the services being consumed (in this case, tech companies).

mrmwebmax

+

You can look at this in many ways. Here’s an interesting spin: With the rise of telecommuting, thanks to technologies like the Internet and such data centers, is the environment actually being helped because people are driving to work less? With iPads and the cloud, how many fewer sheets of paper will be required for books, magazines, and newspapers, thereby saving trees, the energy to harvest the trees, the energy to make the paper, the energy to run the presses, and the energy to transport books, newspapers, and magazines to points of distribution? How many fewer tons of paper will end up in landfills?

mhikl

Apple could
1) invest in wind power up to what all its centres and property holdings use. It could also
2) invest in energy storage to collect electrical energy at night when energy costs are cheaper and then draw upon that during the peek hours of the day taking stress off the grid.

Apple could also
3) invest in research into energy usage and energy efficiency.

Thinking outside the box is what Apple does best and since others look to Apple and copy like there’s no tomorrow,
4) its influence could be huge.

Hope to see some other suggestions address this question.

5) Excellent point, mrmgraphics.

webjprgm

I agree that reducing pollution is a good idea. (Wether to prevent global warming or just to have cleaner air, I don’t care what angle you take.  I want cleaner air so I don’t have to breath fumes.)

But I get annoyed when people like Greenpeace take an anti-nuclear approach too.  @Substance hit it right when he says the energy has to come from somewhere and most (all?) sources of energy have some problem associated with it.

If people want wind and solar, you realize the only way to have enough energy is to put solar panels on the roof of every building and wind turbines on everybody’s chimney.  Those are not strong enough power producers.

My idea is to transition to nuclear (but not on earthquake fault lines or on coasts where sunamis could hit, etc.) and hopefully to newer technologies like plasma garbage incinerating plants or microbes where we already have excellent progress.

In any case, I applaud Greenpeace for provoking people to incite change.  I’m only annoyed at the attack on nuclear energy because I think we need it.

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