Apple Defends Its Data Centers Against Greenpeace Report
April 18, 2012

Apple Defends Its Data Centers Against Greenpeace Report

Michael Harper for

Defending itself from claims from Greenpeace, Apple has disclosed information about the amount of energy consumed at its North Carolina data center for the first time on Tuesday. In a campaign aimed at tech sector, Greenpeace has issued a report of 14 companies leading the transition from local to cloud computing. Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft all received failing grades for their use of coal to power their data centers.

When Apple first announced the new data center, they claimed it would be one of the greenest ever built. Now, they are saying Greenpeace has over-estimated its demand for energy. Apple has said the new center would use only one-fifth of the electricity estimated by Greenpeace. Eventually, they plan to get 60% of their energy for the data center from renewable resources.

Speaking to the Guardian, an Apple spokeswoman said, “Our data center in North Carolina will draw about 20 megawatts at full capacity. We believe this industry-leading project will make Maiden the greenest data centre ever built.”

Twitter also received a failing grade, and was called out specifically for moving their headquarters from globally friendly Sacramento to coal-hungry Atlanta. Yahoo and Google, on the other hand, earned bonus points for their pursuit of clean and renewable energy sources.

According to Greenpeace, the electricity demand from data centers is expected to grow by 19% this year.

North Carolina, home to Apple´s newest data center, receives almost half of its energy from coal, according to a spokesman for the state´s primary energy company, Duke Energy. The other half comes from nuclear power.

Greenpeace´s Gary Cook wrote the report, entitled “How Clean Is Your Cloud?” and said of Apple, “It is certainly not what you would expect from a company like Apple that challenged us to think differently. Here they bought into energy that is old industry and technology.”

Cook isn´t so quick to believe Apple´s figures for energy demand, saying, “I do feel that´s a bit of a lowball number. That would be a very empty building they are putting there in terms of power demand if it´s only 20 MW. That seems disproportionally small.”

The 60% of on-site renewable energy Apple plans to use will come in part from a new solar farm they are building for the data center.

As far as the other companies listed in the report, Microsoft refused to comment while Amazon has said the information in the report is inaccurate.

“Amazon web services (AWS) believes that cloud computing is inherently more environmentally friendly than traditional computing. Instead of each company having their own data center that serves just them, AWS makes it possible for hundreds of thousands of companies to consolidate their data center use into a handful of data centers,” spokesman Andrew Hardener said. “The cloud enables a combined smaller carbon footprint that significantly reduces overall consumption.”

Twitter has announced they will look into the findings, saying, “The Greenpeace report raises important considerations around energy efficiency. We continue to strive for greater energy efficiency as we build out our infrastructure, and we look forward to sharing more on our efforts in this space in the coming months,” according to spokeswoman Carolyn Penner.

Apple is joined with Twitter and Amazon in having the worst ratings, according to Greenpeace´s scorecard. There are some familiar faces to Apple who scored higher, however: Companies like Dell, Google, and Microsoft.