Greenpeace report points to Google, Facebook efforts to green the Internet

Apple, which was given a low score by the environmental group two years ago, made the most gains in transparency, internal conservation efforts and the use and advocacy of renewable energy, Greenpeace said in a report.

Google has been a leader in committing to renewable energy, with procurement deals to purchase wind power from utilities in several states, Greenpeace said. But with 13 data centers, compared with Apple’s four, the company faces a bigger task in shifting its overall energy usage to renewable sources.

Amazon Web Services, which Greenpeace said operates more than 10 data centers in the Virginia area, had a Clean Energy Index of 15 percent, according to Greenpeace.

“It’s not often that we get an opportunity to celebrate companies’ progress,” said Gary Cook, the Greenpeace legislative director who authored the report. “We’re not used to this, but there’s been a huge change in the past two years.”

The group, which began a campaign two years ago called “How Clean is Your Cloud?,” looked at how technology providers are managing their energy needs as they build data centers for delivering software, music, movies and information to customers via the Internet. The servers handling the data not only consume electricity but require air conditioning to keep them from overheating.

“This is about a change in economics,” said Adam Browning, executive director of the San Francisco-based Vote Solar initiative. “Making big pioneering moves highlights the positive economic impact of renewables.”

Amazon, which has an Internet cloud-computing business called Amazon Web Services, will have to do more to boost its use of renewable energy, Cook said. Greenpeace may begin a campaign to pressure Amazon customers such as Netflix and Spotify to move to other providers with greener credentials.

“They’re the absolute laggards in the industry right now,” Cook said of Amazon. “All the other companies have made some incredible changes in the past 24 months, but Amazon has remained totally silent.”

Cook cited how Apple, Facebook and Google, which all own huge data centers in North Carolina, pushed the local utility to offer industrial customers a special rate for renewable power sources.

Apple operates a solar farm at its facility in Maiden, North Carolina, and is planning on adding solar capabilities in Oregon and Nevada.

“When you get a lot of like-minded companies with significant demand for power, it has an impact on incumbent utilities,” said Gary Demasi, director of operations for data center location strategy and energy at Google. Demasi said he told Duke Energy last year that Google would not go through with an expansion of its data center without increased access to green energy.

Greenpeace awarded Apple three “A”s and one “B,” tying with Facebook for the highest marks. Two years ago, the iPhone maker received three “D”s and one “F” for its main green energy categories.

“They have effectively secured enough renewable energy to meet their entire needs,” Cook said. “Apple has made good on its commitment to be 100 per cent renewable.”

The environmental group Greenpeace gives online giants Facebook and Google high marks for their efforts to “green the Internet,” including their decisions to locate data centers in Iowa to tap into the state’s growing renewable energy.

In a report today, Greenpeace said Facebook, Google and four other online companies have committed to a goal of powering their data centers with 100 percent renewable energy.

Apple Inc. is the only company to reach the goal, based on Greenpeace’s Green Energy Index. Facebook came in at 49 percent, and Google, 48 percent. Microsoft Corp., which also has large data center operations in Iowa, came in at 29 percent.

Greenpeace noted that Iowa has become a data center hub, in large part because of its renewable energy development. “In the U.S., there are now nine states that are getting 10 percent or more of their electricity from wind power, with Iowa (25 percent) – a data center hub – topping the list,” the group said.

In Iowa, Google has invested $1.5 billion in data center operations in Council Bluffs. Facebook is building a $300 million data center in Altoona that’s expected to grow to $1 billion, and Microsoft has invested nearly $900 million in West Des Moines.

West Des Moines could be home to another large data center project, with an assessed taxable value of $255 million, city documents indicated last month. The project would create 84 jobs. The company behind the project has not yet been revealed.

Greenpeace lauded Facebook’s decision last year in choosing Iowa over Nebraska, in part, because of its growing renewable energy generation. The group said Facebook has helped drive additional investment in wind energy.

Facebook chose Iowa because it had a “more willing utility to help Facebook meet its renewable goals. Just two weeks after Facebook’s announcement, MidAmerican Energy, the local utility in Iowa, announced plans to invest $1.9 billion to increase its wind generation by 1,050 megawatts.”

“That plan simultaneously marked the largest investment in Iowa’s history and the world’s largest order of wind turbines,” Greenpeace said.

The environmental group said Facebook has since announced it has an agreement with MidAmerican to purchase energy from a new wind project nearby its data center to allow it to fully power the facility with renewable energy. “But its desire for renewable energy clearly had a much larger catalytic role in Iowa – and potentially in Nebraska as well.

“Facebook’s decision to spurn Nebraska has spurred debate in that state Legislature to strengthen policies to support renewable energy investment, so that Nebraska can be more competitive for future data center business,” Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace said Google’s decision to sign “five long-term power purchase agreements for renewable energy, helping to green the grid for its data centers in Iowa, Oklahoma, and Finland.

“In addition to greening its data centers, Google has invested over $1 billion in 15 renewable energy projects,” Greenpeace said, including projects in Iowa and the world’s largest solar plant in Southern California.

The group also noted that Google and Facebook weighed in on Iowa’s discussion over distributed power generation – such as solar energy, wind and other sources of energy that are developed close to where the power is consumed.