Greenpeace singles out datacentre firms for lack of energy efficiency

Greenpeace's new report on datacentre energy efficiency lauds efforts of some tech giants while singles out others for their lack of commitment to green energy

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Environmental campaign group Greenpeace has praised technology giants Google, Facebook and Apple for their use of renewable energy to power datacentres but has blamed AWS and Twitter for not caring enough about the source of the energy they use to power their facilities.

In its latest report Clickin Clean, on big datacentre operators’ environmental performance, Greenpeace recognised the efforts Apple, Google, eBay and Facebook have made towards improving energy efficiency in their IT operations. 

But organisation also singled out Amazon Web Services and Twitter for a lack of transparency in their energy and carbon reporting, as well as for their limited use of sustainable energy to power datacentres.

The report describes Google, Facebook, Apple and to a certain degree even Yahoo as “green Internet innovators” because of their commitment to renewable energy.

Facebook powers its IT infrastructure with 100% renewable energy sources, while Google is using wind energy in its facilities as part of its carbon neutrality commitment. 

Google became the first North American company to obtain ISO 50001 certification for its energy management systems in its datacentre facilities.

Meanwhile, Apple has acquired a hydroelectric power facility near its datacentre in Oregon to further reinforce its commitment to sustainable energy sources for its IT facilities. 

Apple also uses solar, geothermal and wind energy, alongside Google and Facebook. Apple’s environmental report showed that only 2% of its carbon footprint was directly related to IT facilities.

The dirty energy players

But other notable datacentre operators, such as Amazon, Digital Realty and Twitter, are “stuck in dirty energy past”, Greenpeace said. 

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Cloud provider AWS is focusing purely on improvements in efficiency and has taken few or no steps to switch to renewables, the organisation said. AWS primarily uses coal as its main source of energy.

Greenpeace billed Amazon as the “least transparent of any company we evaluated” in terms of energy consumption. AWS’s estimated use of green energy is 15%, the report said. This compares to 34% of green energy used by Google to run its IT.

In its report, Greenpeace placed Microsoft, Equinox, IBM and Telecity in the “middle” as datacentre providers “taking steps toward a greener internet, but not leading the way”.

In 2012, Microsoft adopted a “Carbon Neutral by 2013” plan to reduce its carbon footprint. But the Azure cloud provider still has “significant weaknesses” according to Greenpeace.

“Microsoft has thus far relied heavily on buying Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) and carbon offsets, creating the appearance on paper of being clean but not altering its status quo supply of dirty electricity,” the report read.

Cloud providers Rackspace and Salesforce have made a commitment to use 100% renewable energy in their facilities

A New York Times report revealed that Microsoft wasted thousands of pounds worth of electricity at its Redmond Quincy datacentre to avoid a $210,000 (£129,000) penalty for underuse from its energy provider. The software giant ran its diesel backup generators in excess of what was required to run its datacentres.

“Companies, such as Microsoft and Amazon, are not pulling their full weight to become sustainable, despite having massive potential,” Andrew Hatton, Greenpeace UK’s head of IT, previously told Computer Weekly.

But Microsoft’s recent long-term purchase agreement for wind power, near its Texas datacentre, indicates it is ready to use green energy for its datacentres.

Meanwhile, Equinix, which has more than 100 large datacentre facilities worldwide, collectively consumed 1,830GWh of electricity in 2012, the equivalent to 162,000 average homes.

Greenpeace evaluated other cloud providers including Salesforce, Rackspace, Telecity, Oracle, and HP for their commitment towards offsetting their carbon footprint, but it said these companies need to do more.

Cloud providers Rackspace and Salesforce have made a commitment to use 100% renewable energy in their facilities. Salesforce also said a preference to use collocation providers that use renewable energy. 

It is demonstrating that policy by building its first UK datacentre in collaboration with NTT Europe, which will be 100% renewably powered.

Datacentres are responsible for about 2.5% of Europe's energy use

The Greenpeace Clicking Clean, published this month, is a follow up on its two previous reports: How Clean Is Your Cloud? (2012) and How Dirty Is Your Data? (2011). 

The campaign group argues that datacentre owners should care more about the source of the energy.

It comes at a time when datacentres are responsible for about 2.5% of Europe's energy use, and this figure is rising by 10-15% every year. Between 2011 and 2012 alone, power requirements grew by 63% globally to 38 gigawatts (GW), up from 24GW in 2011. 

The Greenpeace report also supports the RenewIT project – a three-year, €3.6m (£2.9m)-research project funded by the European Commission. The tools developed by RenewIT should help more datacentres understand the economics of using renewable energy and to drive greater adoption, according to the campaign group.

As well as the RenewIT project, the European Union (EU) has awarded €2.9m (£2.4m) to a consortium of companies and researchers that will work to improve the energy efficiency of urban datacentres.

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