Tech giants Apple, Facebook and Google are leading efforts towards a cleaner, renewably powered internet. However, their ambitions may be threatened by an uncooperative fossil fuel sector.
Greenpeace warned that the speed of growth of the internet is only increasing rapid energy demand.
It warns that resistance to renewable investments from coal-heavy monopoly utilities in data centre hot spots such as Virginia, North Carolina and Taiwan is causing the rapid growth in the digital world to increase the demand for dirty energy.
“Tech companies are increasingly turning to the smart choice of renewable energy to power the internet, but they’re hitting a wall of stubborn monopoly power companies that refuse to switch to 21st century sources of energy,” said Gary Cook, senior IT analyst for Greenpeace USA.
“Internet companies need to work together to push utilities and policymakers to provide them with 100pc renewable energy and avoid the creation of a dirty internet.”
Greenpeace said it is calling on tech companies to make a long-term commitment to becoming 100pc renewably powered. It is also calling on them to commit to transparency on IT performance and consumption and to develop a strategy for increasing their supply of renewable energy.
Halfway from coal, halfway to diamond
The report, Clicking Clean: A Guide to Building the Green Internet, found that Apple continues to be the most aggressive in powering its data centre operations with renewable energy.
Despite continued rapid growth, Apple appears to have kept pace with its supply of renewable energy, maintaining its claim of a 100pc renewably powered cloud for another year, followed by Yahoo!, Facebook and Google with 73pc, 49pc and 46pc clean energy respectively. Greenpeace found that Amazon’s current investments would deliver an energy mix of 23pc renewable energy for its operations.
Apple continues to lead the way toward a green internet with several major renewable energy investments announced in the last year, including a US$850 million deal to power its operations in California — the largest-ever non-utility solar deal.
In Europe, Apple is investing €1.7bn to build and operate two data centres in Athenry on the west of Ireland and in Denmark’s central Jutland. Both data centres will power Apple’s online services, including the iTunes Store, the App Store, iMessage, Maps and Siri for customers across Europe.
The new €850m Athenry data centre will be the company’s largest data centre project in Europe and it has emerged that Apple will directly fund at least six Irish renewable energy projects, amounting to a potential additional investment of €400m.
Google’s march toward 100pc renewable energy is threatened by monopoly utilities like Duke Energy in North Carolina, a major hub for data centres. Currently, customers are not allowed to buy power from anyone other than Duke, which gets only 2pc of its electricity from renewable sources, but North Carolina legislators are trying to increase the options for consumers to buy renewable energy from parties other than Duke Energy.
However, the report also highlights the continued lack of transparency by cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS).
It said that AWS has taken some significant steps over the last year, including committing to power its operations with 100pc renewable energy, but the lack of basic transparency about its energy use is a growing concern for its customers.
Although AWS did announce plans to purchase more than 100 MW of wind energy this past year, Greenpeace said it discovered that AWS continues to rapidly expand in Virginia. Based on an analysis of permit applications by Amazon subsidiary Vadata, AWS made investments in new data centre capacity in 2014 that would increase its energy demand by 200 MW in that state, where the utility Dominion powers the grid with only 2pc renewable energy.
“Amazon needs to provide more information about its data centr footperint and how it will move toward 100pc renewable energy, as Apple, Google, and Facebook have done — its rapid expansion in coal-dependent Virginia should be a concern to its customers like Netflix and Pinterest who are fully dependent on Amazon for their online operations. Increased transparency will allow AWS customers to know where they and AWS stand on their journey to 100pc renewable energy,” said Cook.
Greenpeace said that the energy use of digital infrastructure, which would have ranked sixth in the world among countries in 2011, continues to rapidly increase, and is largely being driven by the dramatic growth of streaming video services like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu. Video streaming is estimated to account for more than 60pc of consumer internet traffic today, and is expected to grow to 76pc by 2018.
Clean energy image via Shutterstock