Greenpeace: Apple's cloud needs cleaner energy
By Ændrew Rininsland
Posted on 18 Apr 2012 at 14:20
Apple’s cloud is the dirtiest, according to a report from Greenpeace.
The environmental lobby group singled out Apple from more than a dozen other companies because of its reliance on coal to power its datacentres.
“Coal is the leading cause of global warming pollution in the United States, it completely destroys communities where it’s mined — it’s an important piece for us,” said Greenpeace analyst Casey Harrell. “When you look at who has the most coal in the mix of their electricity supply, Apple’s number one.”
However, Microsoft and Amazon also use coal to power parts of their cloud infrastructure. “If you look at leadership in the cloud computing industry, they’re at the forefront,” Harrell said, adding "Microsoft and Amazon are not where they need to be in terms of leadership around renewable energy and binding commitments on these issues, but at the same time, they also have the most potential to lead.”
The cloud needs to be run as efficiently as possible and it needs to run on as much renewable energy as possible
According to Greenpeace, cloud computing used 623 billion kilowatt hours in 2007, with that set to triple by 2020. If cloud computing were a country, it would have been ranked fifth in the world in terms of energy consumption.
“We’re not nibbling around the edges here — this is a huge amount of electricity demand already and it’s growing substantially, ” said Harrell. “We can’t be growing this cloud in a dirty way. We’re throwing down the gauntlet for the entire industry.”
Amazon said the cloud computing model has environmental benefits, cutting energy use by allowing "hundreds of thousands of companies" to consolidate their datacentres into its cloud, "resulting in much higher utilisation rates and eliminating the waste that occurs when datacentres don’t operate near their capacity”.
"The cloud enables a combined smaller carbon footprint that significantly reduces overall consumption," an Amazon spokesperson said.
Greenpeace agreed that may be true, but didn't remove the need to improve energy use in the cloud. “Even if cloud computing is driving efficiency, its overall growth is quite significant,” Harrell said. “The cloud needs to be run as efficiently as possible and it needs to run on as much renewable energy as possible.”
Apple refuted the report, saying the data was inaccurate and claiming its new iCloud datacentre would be the greenest ever built.
"Our datacentre in North Carolina will draw about 20 megawatts at full capacity, and we are on track to supply more than 60% of that power on-site from renewable sources including a solar farm and fuel cell installation which will each be the largest of their kind in the country,” said an Apple spokesperson in a statement.
Facebook was praised for its new datacentre in Sweden powered by renewables while Google's score was helped by its efforts to improve its energy buying policies.
Twitter received a lower rating than its web rivals as its cloud is 35.6% powered by coal. A spokesperson from Twitter said the report raised "important considerations" around energy issues. "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,” the spokesperson added.
IBM, Oracle and Salesforce were also asked for comment, but did not respond by the time of publishing. Microsoft was contacted but refused comment.
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