Apple, Facebook, and Google are leading a growing number of technology companies working to power the internet with 100 % renewable energy, signaling a major shift in the sector over the past two years. Those companies are leaving behind Amazon Web Services, which hosts the data for many of the internet’s most popular services. Amazon Web Services powers its infrastructure with polluting energy sources that contribute to global warming..
A new report by Greenpeace USA, “Clicking Clean: How Companies are Creating the Green Internet,” details the immense power that technology companies have either to drive a renewable energy revolution, or to chain the new digital economy to old, polluting sources of power. The stakes are high: if the internet were a country, its electricity demand would currently rank sixth.
Estimates from the industry expect internet data to triple from 2012 to 2017.
“Apple, Facebook and Google are powering our online lives with clean energy, and building a greener offline world for everyone in the process,” said Gary Cook, Greenpeace Senior IT Analyst. “These companies have proven over the past 24 months that wind and solar energy are ready and waiting to power the internet, and the rest of our economy, with clean electricity,” Cook said.
The nitty gritty
Greenpeace evaluated the energy choices of 19 leading internet companies, surveying their electricity supply chains of over 300 data centers. Five of those companies have committed to a goal of powering their operations with 100% renewable energy.
Apple became the first company to achieve 100% renewable energy goal to power its iCloud. It is operating the largest privately owned solar installation in the US at its North Carolina data center.
Apple led the companies evaluated, with a Clean Energy Index of 100%.
“Apple’s rapid shift to renewable energy over the past 24 months has made it clear why it’s one of the world’s most innovative and popular companies,” Cook said. “By continuing to buy dirty energy, Amazon Web Services not only can’t seem to keep up with Apple, but it is dragging much of the internet down with it.”
Facebook flexed its muscles to push its utility in Iowa, MidAmerican Energy, to power its data center there with wind energy. MidAmerican responded by investing $1.9 billion in wind power generation, placing the world’s largest-ever order of onshore wind turbines, in part to meet the social network’s demands.
Google has pioneered the use of power purchase agreements for wind energy, to provide electricity for its services like Gmail and YouTube.
Google, Apple, and Facebook all pushed Duke Energy, the largest utility in the US, to offer new renewable energy options for large electricity buyers in North Carolina.
Holding us back
Amazon Web Services hosts a large part of the internet, including popular companies like Pinterest, Netflix, Spotify, Tumblr, AirBnB, Yelp, and Vine. Currently it meets only 15% of its electricity demand with clean energy. Coal powers 28% of the company’s cloud, nuclear 27%, and gas 25%. Amazon’s growth is fueling the increased use and construction of coal and gas-burning power plants in Virginia, and it has jeopardized clean energy growth in Oregon.
While companies like Apple, Facebook and eBay have led the broader sector to be more transparent about its energy use, Amazon steadfastly refuses to reveal any details about its energy footprint to its customers or the public.
Twitter also does not share any details about its energy footprint. The company has made no efforts to procure cleaner electricity, in stark contrast to its social media rival Facebook.
Fast growing business-to-business companies Rackspace and Salesforce joined Apple, Facebook, and Google in 2012 in committing to a goal of powering their operations with 100 % renewable energy.
In “Clicking Clean,” Greenpeace was the first to assess colocation data center companies, which rent out data center space to customers. The report finds that they use low amounts of renewable energy. Most also lacked transparency about their energy footprints.
Greenpeace is calling on all major internet companies to:
- Make a long-term commitment to become 100% renewably powered.
- Commit to transparency on IT performance and consumption of resources, including the source of electricity, to enable customers, investors, and stakeholders to measure progress toward that goal.
- Develop a strategy for increasing their supply of renewable energy, through a mixture of procurement, investment, and corporate advocacy to both electricity suppliers and government decision-makers.