Apple has least green data centres, Greenpeace says

21 Apr 2011

Greenpeace has released its How Dirty is Your Data report, looking at global cloud companies’ energy footprint, with Apple coming out lowest in its clean-energy index due to its reliance on coal to power its data centres.

In its report, Greenpeace looked at what it calls IT’s biggest disruption – cloud computing – and analysed the data centre investments of 10 top global cloud companies: Akamai, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo!

While Apple topped the league for its reliance on coal power (54.5pc), it was closely followed by Facebook at 53.2pc and IBM at 51.6pc. Next in line was HP at 49.4pc, followed by Twitter at 42.5pc, Google at 34.7pc, Microsoft at 34.1pc, Amazon at 28.5pc and Yahoo! at 18.3pc.

Greenpeace says Apple’s US$1bn Apple iData Center in North Carolina, which is expected to open this spring, will consume as much as 100MW of electricity, the equivalent to the electricity usage of about 80,000 homes in the US or more than a quarter million in the EU.

It says the surrounding energy grid has less than 5pc clean energy, with the remaining 95pc coming from sources like coal and nuclear.

As for Yahoo! and Google, Greenpeace says they appear to be comprehending the importance of renewable energy supply, with Yahoo! positioning most of its data centres near renewable energy sources. Meanwhile, Google continues to sign power purchase agreements for renewable energy and is investing in solar and wind energy projects.

Greenpeace says Facebook is on track to be among “the most dependent cloud computing companies on coal-powered electricity”, with more than 53pc of its facilities estimated to rely on coal.

Data centres and energy consumption

Data centres themselves consume 1.5-2pc of all global electricity, with this growing at a rate of 12pc a year, according to Greenpeace.

It says if the internet was a country, it would rank fifth for the amount of electricity usage, just below Japan and above Russia.

Dirty data triangle

Greenpeace also refers to a dirty data triangle emerging in North Carolina, with companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple, due to the abundance of coal-powered electricity.

It says the IT sector as a whole needs to “define ‘green’ as being ‘more efficient’.”

“This failure to commit to clean energy in the same way energy efficiency is embraced is driving demand for dirty energy, and is holding the sector back from being truly green,” says Greenpeace.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic