Apple promises to free cloud from coal but it’s still no diamond, laments Greenpeace

12 Jul 2012

Apple’s clean energy score has improved to 22.6pc from 15.3pc, according to a Greenpeace report that laments the technology giant still lacks a realistic plan to eliminate its reliance on coal in its data centres to power its iCloud.

The report “A Clean Energy Road Map for Apple” is a follow-up evaluation to Greenpeace International’s April “How Clean is Your Cloud?” report, which ranked companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Apple on their renewable energy policies.

This latest analysis updates the scores to account for Apple’s new announcements and found that Apple’s plans to make its three existing data centres “coal-free” are still far from complete. 

“Apple has the potential to set a new bar with its coal-free iCloud commitment, but its plans to reach this goal are still mostly talk and not enough walk,” said Greenpeace International senior IT analyst Gary Cook. 

“Apple got a lot of kudos and positive attention for its clean energy commitments in May, but it now must explain to its customers how it plans to fully eliminate its dirty energy sources, and should extend that policy to new data centres as its iCloud expands.”

Apple scores a ‘D’

Apple’s clean energy score improved to 22.6pc from 15.3pc, and its grades in the “Renewables and Advocacy” and “Energy Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Mitigation” categories correspondingly improved to Cs from Ds. However, Apple received a D for its “Energy Transparency” and a D in the “Infrastructure Siting” category.

Apple’s coal and nuclear energy scores decreased, but could go down more if Apple were to reveal viable plans for how it will power its rapidly expanding data centres without the use of coal.

It now uses 33.5pc coal energy to power its cloud, down from 55.1pc in April, and 11.6pc nuclear energy, down from 27.8 in April. 

The analysis includes a checklist for how Apple can make good on its coal-free iCloud pledge. Apple says solar panels and fuel cells will provide 60pc of the electricity for the first phase of its data centre in North Carolina, and will turn to regional renewable energy providers for the remaining 40pc. 

However, since Apple will have to buy that electricity from Duke Energy, the only electric utility in the area – and one which also relies heavily on coal – Apple cannot be coal-free without pushing Duke toward that goal as well. 

Greenpeace says Apple should instead use its buying power as one of Duke Energy’s anticipated top 10 customers to demand that Duke provide it with clean energy, not mountaintop removal coal.

More than 250,000 customers of Apple, Amazon and Microsoft have written to the companies asking for a cleaner cloud since Greenpeace launched its Clean Our Cloud campaign in April.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years