• How Clean is your Cloud - Apple responds

    Blogpost by Gary Cook - April 18, 2012 at 10:52 Add comment

    Our new report “How Clean is Your Cloud” is out today - to show that the massive increase in Internet use is mainly being powered by dirty energy. Apple, Amazon and Microsoft all score badly in the report for relying on dirty coal and dangerous nuclear power for their data centres.

    Since 2010, and again in 2011, we have been calling on all the major Internet companies to come clean about the amount and type of power behind the Internet services we use everyday.

    Today Apple responded (via the New York Times):

    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.

    While it is good to see Apple acknowledge it should reveal more details of the energy consumption of its data centres, 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 centre.

    When Apple announced they were building a data centre in North Carolina, they announced a commitment to invest $1 Billion (USD) over 10 years.  For a number of the facilities in the “How Clean is Your Cloud?” report, we made estimates of power demand using fairly conservative industry benchmarks for data centre investments: 1MW of power demand from servers for every $15 million, though the number is often closer to $8 million for many companies. Thus, a $1 billion investment should net Apple 66MW of computer power demand.  Assuming a fairly standard energy efficiency factor for new data centres for non-computer energy demand of 50% gives you a 100MW  data center.  While Apple is well known for making more expensive consumer products, if Apple's plans for the $1 billion investment only generates 20MW in power demand, that would be taking the “Apple premium” to a whole new level.

    Size Matters

    The size of the facility at 500,000 sq foot would also indicate a much larger power demand. Amazon's chief web engineer recently conservatively estimated that based just on the size of the facility, the iDatacenter would consume at least 78MW, and speculated that it is probably higher.

    We made these estimates because companies like Apple and Amazon have not disclosed details of how much energy data centres use now and will in the future. We provided Apple with our data prior to releasing the “How Clean is Your Cloud?” report, and while they did not agree with our estimate, they declined to provide specific information on their energy demand.

    While we welcome Apple's attempt today to provide more specific details on its North Carolina iData Center, it does not appear to have provided the full story, and is instead seeking to provide select pieces of information to make their dirty energy footprint seem smaller.

    The IT industry can be a part of the solution to old-fashioned problems like emissions from coal. Some companies, like Google, Yahoo and Facebook are already doing that, by taking steps to move toward powering their clouds with clean energy, not coal or nuclear. This campaign is creating an opportunity for Apple to join them and start becoming a part of the solution to climate change, so that we can deal with emissions from the growth of 'cloud computing' before it becomes an irreversible problem. Step one in seizing this opportunity is for companies to be transparent about their energy use.