Greenpeace Takes on Apple and Other Tech Companies over Coal-Powered Data Centers

Activist group Greenpeace today issued a new report entitled How Clean is Your Cloud?, targeting major Internet companies including Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft over their heavy use of coal-derived power for their massive data centers.

Given the energy-intensive nature of maintaining the cloud, access to significant amounts of electricity is a key factor in decisions about where to build these data centers. Since electricity plays a critical role in the cost structure of companies that use the cloud, there have been dramatic strides made in improving the energy efficiency design of the facilities and the thousands of computers that go inside. However, despite significant improvements in efficiency, the exponential growth in cloud computing far outstrips these energy savings. Companies must look not only at how efficiently they are consuming electricity, but also the sources of electricity that they are choosing.

The study covers 14 Internet companies, but singles out Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft as the biggest offenders. According to Greenpeace's data, Apple is the only one of the 14 companies to derive more than half of its data center power (55%) from coal. Apple also ranks third in the share of its power needs coming from nuclear sources.


Greenpeace acknowledges Apple's work to build a 20-megawatt solar farm and 5-megawatt fuel cell facility at its new data center in Maiden, North Carolina, but downplays their significance by claiming that the facilities will cover only 10% of the site's power needs. Greenpeace specifically takes Apple to task for its decision to locate its data center in North Carolina, which reportedly maintains one of the dirtiest power grids in the country. In particular, Duke Energy is continuing to invest in coal and nuclear power options while investing "very little" in renewable energy. A similar situation exists in Prineville, Oregon, where Apple has announced plans for another data center.

To deliver iCloud services, Apple has dramatically expanded its data center infrastructure. It has invested at least $1bn in an “iDataCenter” in North Carolina, one of the world’s largest data centers, and just announced another facility to be built in Prineville, Oregon. Unfortunately, both of these investments are powered by utilities that rely mostly on coal power. Given the lack of transparency, siting policy or a clear commitment to power the iCloud with renewable energy, Apple is finding itself behind other companies such as Facebook and Google who are angling to control a bigger piece of the cloud.

Apple maintains a significant environmental section of its website, including disclosures on its Maiden data center, which the company believes is the only data center of its size to achieve a LEED Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. But while Greenpeace gives Apple some credit for its steps, the organization continues to give Apple poor marks for a lack of complete transparency about its data center power demands and publicly-available policies regarding the energy considerations for its projects.

While Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft take the brunt of Greenpeace's criticism, Yahoo and Google receive high marks for their policies prioritizing renewable energy in their projects and for promoting policies to increase investment in renewable energy. Facebook also receives high marks for its recent commitment to renewable energy, including its latest data center in Sweden that can be powered with 100% renewable energy.

Update: In a statement issued to The New York Times, Apple discloses for the first time that the current data center in Maiden, North Carolina consumes roughly 20 megawatts of power, meaning that the 25 megawatts of power planned for the solar farm and fuel cell facility at that location should be sufficient for at least this phase of the project. Apple's long-term plans include eventually doubling the size of the data center with a second building, and it seems unlikely that the 20-megawatt number includes those plans.

In a statement issued in response to the report, Apple disclosed for the first time that the data center would consume about 20 million watts at full capacity — much lower than Greenpeace’s estimate, which is 100 million watts. In territory served by Duke, a million watts is enough to power 750 to 1,000 homes.

Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Apple, added that the company is building two large projects intended to offset energy use from the grid in North Carolina: an array of solar panels and a set of fuel cells.

Update 2: Greenpeace has responded with a blog post questioning Apple's statements about energy usage at the Maiden data center.

While it is good to see Apple acknowledge it should reveal more details of the energy consumption of its data centers, the information they released today does not add up with what they have reported to be the size of the investment and physical size of the data center. [...] While Apple is well known for making more expensive consumer products, if Apple’s plans for the $ 1Billion investment only generates 20MW in power demand, that would be taking the “Apple premium” to a whole new level.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
106 months ago
Nothing produces clouds as good as the old coal technology!
Score: 60 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
106 months ago
Perhaps they don't understand Apple's data center will have:
- largest solar panel installment
- largest fuel cell installment
Score: 43 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
106 months ago
What about Whale Blubber?

Apple could build gigantic salt water ponds, and fill them with whales... the Whales could be fed a diet of krill fed from organically raised soy and magic... We could populate these lakes with Humpback whales and harvest them for oil to run the iCloud, then we could seal the whole thing in a corn-based plastic dome to ensure that there was zero impact on the surrounding area.

Or we could consider the decreased environmental impact of data centers in a variety of other ways, such as decreasing the need for onsite hardware by up to 95% percent.
Score: 31 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
106 months ago
We all should live in the stone age. :rolleyes:

Apple is doing their best to add environmental-friendly equipment to their data centers. What?
Score: 27 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
106 months ago
Apple does what it can to be energy efficient as do most publicly watched companies. they need the juice to provide the services that also provide jobs. it is not their decision how the local community produces that energy.
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
106 months ago
So what.... were they supposed to either build their own nuclear power plants or build a state-sized solar farm to power those data centers? :confused: :rolleyes:
Score: 25 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

'This App is No Longer Shared' iOS Bug Preventing Some Apps From Opening

Friday May 22, 2020 3:58 pm PDT by
An app bug is causing some iOS users to be unable to open their apps, with affected iPhone and iPad users seeing the message "This app is no longer shared with you" when attempting to access an app. There are multiple complaints about the issue on the MacRumors forums and on Twitter from users who are running into problems. A MacRumors reader describes the issue:Is anyone else experiencing...

Apple Memorial Day Deals: Shop the Best Apple Accessory Sales From Twelve South, eBay, Anker, Mophie, and More

Friday May 22, 2020 6:39 am PDT by
We're now just a few days away from Memorial Day on Monday, May 25, and numerous retailers have opened up discounts in celebration of the holiday. This includes sales on helpful Apple-related accessories like Anker's portable batteries, Beats headphones at eBay, Incase and Incipio's protective iPad and iPhone cases, Mophie's iPhone battery cases, JBL's Bluetooth speakers, and much more. Note:...

Former iOS Chief Scott Forstall Shares Intriguing Story of His Interview With Steve Jobs at NeXT

Friday May 22, 2020 4:01 am PDT by
Former Apple executive and iOS chief Scott Forstall made a rare public appearance this week at Code.org's virtual Code Break event, and in between classes, Forstall shared the intriguing story of how he was hired by Steve Jobs. Forstall revealed that he had been considering working at Microsoft when he went to interview at NexT, the company started by Jobs after he had left Apple. Forstall...

'Apple Glass' Rumored to Start at $499, Support Prescription Lenses, and More

Tuesday May 19, 2020 6:30 am PDT by
Front Page Tech host and leaker Jon Prosser today shared several alleged details about Apple's rumored augmented reality glasses, including an "Apple Glass" marketing name, $499 starting price, prescription lens option, and more. The marketing name will be "Apple Glass" The glasses will start at $499 with the option for prescription lenses at an extra cost There will be displays in both...

Apple's 'Bounce' AirPods Ad Wins 'Best of Advertising' Award

Friday May 22, 2020 10:09 am PDT by
Apple's creative "Bounce" ad designed to highlight the AirPods took top honors in the 99th annual ADC (Art Director's Club) awards for advertising, earning the "Best of Discipline" award along with two Gold Cube awards in the craft in video and branded content categories. Released in June 2019, the ad features a bored man who pulls his AirPods off of their wireless charging pad and then pops ...

Apple's 'AirPods Studio' Over-Ear Headphones Have Reportedly Kicked Off Production

Friday May 22, 2020 7:03 am PDT by
We've been hearing quite a bit recently about Apple's long-rumored over-ear headphones, said to be called "AirPods Studio," and it looks like a launch may be coming in the relatively near future. Artist mockup based on Beats Studio3 Rumors have generally suggested a summer or fall launch for AirPods Studio, with a report earlier this week claiming that suppliers in Vietnam will begin...

Top Stories: Apple Glass and iPhone 12 Rumors, iOS 13.5 Update, and More!

Saturday May 23, 2020 6:00 am PDT by
It was another big week for rumors this week, with a flurry of reports about Apple's augmented reality glasses, the iPhone 12, and Apple's "AirPods Studio" over-ear headphones. This week also saw the release of iOS 13.5, bringing a number of health-related updates to Apple's mobile devices. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Other topics of interest this week included ...

Apple Releases iPadOS and iOS 13.5 With Exposure Notification API, Face ID Mask Updates, Group FaceTime Changes and More

Wednesday May 20, 2020 10:00 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS and iPadOS 13.5, major updates that come more than a month after the launch of iOS and iPadOS 13.4.1. iOS 13.5 is a major health-related update that brings many features related to the ongoing public health crisis. The iOS and ‌‌iPadOS‌‌ 13.5 updates are available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access the updates, go to Settings...

Jon Prosser Claims Apple is Working on 'Steve Jobs Heritage Edition' AR Glasses, Gurman Calls Rumor 'Complete Fiction'

Thursday May 21, 2020 4:50 pm PDT by
Apple is working on a limited-edition version of its augmented reality smart glasses that's designed to look like the round, frameless glasses that Steve Jobs was famous for wearing, according to Jon Prosser. Prosser, who runs YouTube show Front Page Tech and who has been sharing a flood of Apple rumors in recent weeks, mentioned the detail in Cult of Mac's latest Cultcast podcast....

T-Mobile and Sprint Offering Free iPhone SE With Trade-In

Thursday May 21, 2020 1:14 pm PDT by
T-Mobile is launching a Memorial Day promotion that will see the company offering a free iPhone SE to customers who trade in an eligible older smartphone in good condition. From Friday to Monday, customers who trade in an existing smartphone can get a free iPhone SE (sales tax still needs to be paid) or up to $500 off a Samsung Galaxy S20. The free iPhone SE will be provided in the form...