Yesterday, the executive director of Greenpeace wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to create a plan to phase out the use of coal in powering Facebook’s data center, which is under construction in Oregon in the footprint of a utility that generates the majority of its electricity from coal. Now Facebook has responded to the criticism on Greenpeace’s website (hat tip Data Center Knowledge), defending the choice to build the data center in Oregon and explaining that the location is particularly good for energy efficiency.
In the comment section of Greenpeace’s website, Facebook’s Director of Policy Communications Barry Schnitt says that because the climate in Prineville, Oreg. is dry and temperate, Facebook’s data center will not use any of the large chillers that traditional data centers use, which can sometimes account for half of a data center’s energy consumption. Instead, Facebook’s data center will use an evaporative cooling system, which Schnitt compares to the efficiency of overhead fans.
In addition, Schnitt points out that Oregon has a renewable portfolio standard (utilities have to generate 25 percent of their electric load from clean power by 2025). Specifically, the utility that Facebook will buy power from — Pacific Power — plans to have 2 GW of clean power by 2013. Finally, Schnitt points to Greenpeace’s own IT infrastructure, which is in Virgina, and isn’t solely powered by clean energy. I think that’s a bit of a cheap shot, as Facebook is an Internet leader, with a large server footprint, and the point of Greenpeace’s criticism is that Facebook should be pushing the edge on what is economical with clean power like Google is doing.
I think everyone agrees that the clean power option for data centers is far too expensive right now for most companies. That’s why successful, large, Internet companies — like Facebook — need to push the envelope and use the heft of their purchasing power.
Google has been experimenting with that weight, and agreed to buy wind power from a wind farm before the wind farm was built, helping the developer get a better interest rate for the financing of the plant. In theory, Google could sell the power from the wind farm on the whole sale market (it recently got its subsidiary Google Energy approved to buy and sell energy) until one of its data center power contracts expires and Google could then use the wind power more directly, like negotiating with the local utility to resell it to them.
To read more on the real reason Google bought wind power, check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):
Image courtesy of Ludovic Toinel.