Facebook carbon footprint grows but energy-efficiency metric glows

Facebook’s carbon footprint report shows energy-efficiency metric for all-important datacentres comfortably outperforms gold-standard figure and set to get better

Facebook’s total energy use in 2013 including power for datacentre facilities, IT systems and office space was 822 million kilowatt hours (kWh). More than 95% of this energy was used in its four datacentres which together had a PUE (power usage effectiveness) of 1.09.

In 2013, every subscriber’s Facebook use for the whole year had about the “same carbon impact as a medium latte”, according to the social network’s 2013 carbon footprint report. Facebook has more than a billion users worldwide.

But the social network giant’s energy use and carbon footprint rose in 2013 despite its increasing focus on datacentre energy efficiency and use of clean and renewable energy sources.

The combined carbon footprint of all its datacentres (three in the US and one in Europe) for 2013 was 355,000 metric tonnes of CO2e, compared with 285,000 metric tonnes of CO2e in 2011.

In 2013, Facebook’s greenhouse gas emission per person was at 0.000311 metric tons, as against 0.000294 metric tons in 2012.

“As more and more people use Facebook, our overall greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise,” the report noted. This is because as Facebook use rises, so its IT infrastructure expands.

In its report, Facebook shared details of the energy resources used to power its datacentre facilities and IT operations. It revealed that coal – a cheap but environmentally dubious option – still accounted for 34% of its total energy mix.

In 2013 each subscriber’s Facebook use for the entire year still had about the same carbon impact as a medium latte

Facebook carbon footprint report 2013

The percentage of clean and renewable energy in the company’s energy mix has declined over the past two years. In 2013, Facebook’s energy mix was 14% clean and renewable, 17% natural gas, 23% nuclear, and 12% uncategorised (power bought on the spot market) in addition to the 34% coal.

This compares with 23% clean and renewable, 27% coal, 17% natural gas, 13% nuclear and 20% uncategorised in 2011.

However, the social media giant is confident that as its latest Arctic datacentre in Lulea in Sweden (powered by clean hydroelectricity) and its Altoona datacentre in Iowa (which runs on wind power) start serving more traffic, so the percentage of clean energy in its datacentres will rise.

Greenpeace described Facebook as one of the “green internet innovators” because of its commitment to renewable energy. In its report Clickin Clean on big datacentre operators’ environmental performance, Greenpeace recognised the efforts that Facebook – along with Apple, Google and eBay – has made towards improving energy efficiency in its IT operations. 

“We are on course to meet our goal of 25% clean and renewable energy in our mix by the end of 2015,” Facebook’s energy report noted.

The social network is also continuing to “collaborate with others in the industry to develop even more efficient computing infrastructure”.

Last year, Frank Frankovsky, vice-president of hardware design and supply chain operations at the social media company, said Facebook has reduced costs by 24% and increased IT energy efficiency by 38% since it started using open source hardware systems in its datacentres.

The open source systems are based on the Open Compute Project, initiated in 2011 by Facebook engineers looking for ways to scale the company’s computing infrastructure in the most efficient and economical way possible as well as to develop more sustainable datacentre technologies.

The Facebook datacentres’ PUE of 1.09 is lower than the industry gold standard of 1.5. Power usage effectiveness is a metric used to determine the energy efficiency of a datacentre. The figure is determined by dividing the power entering a datacentre by the power used to run the computer infrastructure within it.

The report concluded: “We’ve found the process of compiling the report to be very valuable. It pushes us to continue to look for ways to improve our operational sustainability, and to continue to improve our methodological rigor in calculating our footprint. We also hope that we’ve inspired others in the industry to talk more openly about sustainability.”

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