Greenpeace skewers Apple’s fossil fuel powered data center

Greenpeace skewers Apple’s fossil fuel powered data center Cloud computing seems to be on the lips of every IT specialist these days; stacks of servers can handle your Tweets, status updates, and download music. These data centers suck up an enormous amount of energy to operate and it often comes from dirty sources like coal and nuclear plants. Greenpeace is continuing their fight against dirty data centers and named Apple the biggest offender in a recent report.

The basis of Greenpeace’s report entitled “How Dirty Is Your Data?” was to take a look at the power sources that juice up major data centers from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon (Amazon Web Services), Akami, Facebook, HP, Twitter, IBM, and Yahoo. Their rationale is that our need for these “Information factories of the 21st Century” will only grow and they need to rely on green energy instead of fossil fuels. Gary Cook, a Greenpeace IT Policy Analyst said, "We think consumers want to know that when they upload a video or change their Facebook status that they are not contributing to toxic coal ash, global warming or future Fukishima's."

The organization found that of the ten companies selected Apple was downright rotten when it comes to using fossil fuel to power their facilities. According to the report, North Carolina became a very attractive spot to build their $1B data center for iTunes and MobileMe because of the state’s cheap electric rates. Since the furniture and textile industries in the state have taken hits, many energy providers have extra power that they need to market. The frightening part is that a measly five percent of the electricity in the state is provided by clean energy; this fact handed Apple the lowest rating on the clean energy index at 6.7% while the wind energy fans at Google scored a 36.4%

While many Americans haven’t stepped inside a data center or even a server room at an office complex they can use staggering amounts of energy. Greenpeace estimates that Apple’s new facility in North Carolina may use up to 100 MW of juice when it finally opens later this year. In comparison, that’s enough energy to power 28% of the homes in Washington D.C. 

While Apple may have been the biggest offender in the dirty data report, they aren’t alone. Greenpeace also lashed out at Facebook for another North Carolina based facility, and left some of their strongest words for the micro-blogging site Twitter. The company announced last year that they would be moving their data center operations to Salt Lake City, Utah. Greenpeace pointed out that “Twitter's move from San Jose to Utah, which has an electric utility mix that is 97 percent fossil-fuel based (81 percent coal) as compared with 27 percent renewable (with less than 1 percent coal and 20 percent nuclear), is a huge step backwards for Twitter.”

Even though Greenpeace has taken a more mature turn in recent months with their campaign for cleaner data centers, companies like Apple and Twitter should know that this is an organization that doesn’t back down from a fight.


This earthday infographic illustrates the impact of data center pollution on the envronment -