Apple, Facebook and IBM criticised for datacentre reliance on coal power

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Greenpeace has opened a new front in its ongoing battle with Apple, ranking the iconic technology company bottom in a new league table revealing the extent to which IT companies rely on coal power to supply their sprawling datacentres.

Entitled How Dirty is Your Data? (PDF), the report draws on publicly available data to estimate the energy consumption of the world's largest datacentres and their draw on renewable energy.

Greenpeace acknowledges that IT firms refuse to publicly disclose energy use data as they regard it as commercially sensitive, noting that datacentres could be consuming 70 per cent more energy than estimated.

However, the NGO maintains that the best evidence suggests datacentres use up to three per cent of all US electricity and, despite significant improvements in efficiency, energy demand is increasing 12 per cent a year as IT firms rapidly expand so-called 'cloud' services.

It also confirms that there are significant differences in IT firms' willingness to draw on renewable energy to power datacentres; Apple is ranked bottom on the list with an estimated 54.5 per cent of its datacentre power coming from coal.

The company was followed by Facebook, where an estimated 53.2 per cent of energy comes from coal, and IBM with 51.6 per cent.

In contrast, Yahoo, Google and Amazon were praised for their relatively high levels of clean energy use.

The report notes that "Yahoo and Google seem to understand the importance of a renewable energy supply, with Yahoo siting most of its datacentres near sources of renewable energy, and Google directly signing power purchasing agreements for renewable energy and investing in solar and wind energy projects in many US states as well as Germany".

Greenpeace also revealed how a "dirty data triangle" is developing in North Carolina where the coal rich state is offering incentives for IT companies to locate datacentres in the region.

The report estimates that Apple's new iData Center in North Carolina, which is expected to open this spring, will consume up to 100MW of electricity, equivalent to the electricity use of approximately 80,000 US homes. Significantly, the local energy grid has less than five per cent clean energy, the rest coming from fossil fuels and nuclear.

The report is the latest in a series of attacks on Apple from the green campaign group. Back in 2008, Greenpeace secured concessions from the IT company over its chemicals policy following a high-profile campaign criticising Apple's use of hazardous substances.

21 Apr 2011, BusinessGreen staff   , BusinessGreen

Hi Robb I kind of agree

Hi Robb I kind of agree with you (i.e. we do need both) but it's not just about hardware. If I rcelal correctly the point that Microsoft was making about resilience over redundancy it was not that we don't need both, but that we don't care about arrays of redundant disks, etc. in this world of commodity hardware and container-sized failure units the redundancy is elsewhere in the architecture and if a device fails, we just fall over to the next one (kind of like bad sectors on a hard disk).The redundancy is now in software. Services need to be designed to be resilient to failure maybe even with multiple cloud providers, certainly in a manner that guards against loss of a datacentre for a period.Sorry if that isn't entirely clear from the original post.

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