Greenpeace slams Apple despite its clean power data center plans

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Updated: Despite that Apple is building one of the largest privately-owned solar and fuel cell farms at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, the environmentalists at Greenpeace say in a new report that Apple is one of a couple of Internet companies that are falling significantly short on sourcing clean power for data centers. Other Internet companies that drew weak marks from Greenpeace’s report include Amazon, and Microsoft.

In contrast, Google, Yahoo and even Facebook drew praise from Greenpeace’s latest “How Clean Is Your Cloud,” report. The 50+ page report ranks over a dozen Internet companies on categories like how much they consider clean power when deciding the location of their data center, how transparent their clean power strategy is, and how much they are leading the industry through advocacy for clean power.

As the Internet, cloud computing and always-on gadgets grow, the amount of electricity consumed by data centers will grow along side it. Greenpeace says data center electricity is 31GW globally, and that will increase 19 percent in 2012 alone.

Apple and Amazon drew such poor marks partly because they don’t seem to factor in clean power sources — like hydro, wind, and solar — into the decision of where to build their data centers. While Apple is leading the industry in building its own clean power, its data center in North Carolina will largely consume cheap and mostly coal-powered and nuclear-powered electricity. Likewise, Greenpeace says over two thirds of the servers powering Amazon’s AWS E2 Elastic Computing cloud computing platform are based in Northern Virginia, which has a similar dirty fossil fuel mix. Apple and Amazon both received “F’s” for “Infrastructure Siting.”

In contrast, other Internet companies like Facebook are choosing locations, like Sweden, that allow them to source much of their electricity from clean power. After Greenpeace took a hard stance toward Facebook last year, the social network giant decided to make a more substantial commitment to clean power.

Update: Apple has responded to Greenpeace saying that its data center in Maiden, North Carolina consumes 20 MW, far less than the estimate of 100 MW that Greenpeace had for it. And Apple says that the North Carolina data center will draw 60 percent of its power from clean energy. Apple also says its data center in Oregon will be 100 percent powered by clean power.

Greenpeace also wants the Internet companies to be transparent about their energy and carbon footprints, as a way to show they will improve and also as a advocacy and leadership step for the industry. However, many Internet companies don’t want to share that information for competitive reasons. Apple and Amazon received a “D” and an “F” for transparency, respectively. Google, on the other hand, recently unveiled its energy footprint for the first time.

Not all of the report was negative. Greenpeace found that:

There have been increasing signs that more IT companies are beginning to take a proactive approach in ensuring their energy demand can be met with available renewable sources of electricity, and will increasingly play a role in shaping our energy future.

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