Apple is feeling heat from Greenpeace today. The environmental group singled out the image-conscious IT leader for building data centers in regions that rely heavily on coal in its yearly report rankings of cloud computing companies. Apple gets 55 percent of its power from coal, according to Greenpeace, which is about the same as the nation’s overall energy mix, but higher than all other 14 ranked companies.
More and more, West Coast tech companies are building their U.S. facilities on the east coast and around Chicago, where coal power is plentiful and cheap. Greenpeace criticized Apple because it has no data center policy that takes clean energy into account. The company got an “F” grade for infrastructure siting as its iCloud data center rises in Maiden, North Carolina, where the local utility Duke Energy relies mostly on coal and nuclear power. Apple, shot back in a statement calling Greenpeace’s claims exaggerated. It noted its North Carolina center will draw more than 60 percent of its electricity from on-site solar panels and fuel cells and that it is building a 100 percent renewable data center in Oregon.
As more of our lives and work are hosted in the cloud, the debate points to an important question about how far tech companies should be going to use clean energy, which costs more than fossil fuels today. Should companies like Apple completely avoid coal-reliant regions? Or should they build their own renewable infrastructure and use their influence to green the power mix of places like North Carolina?
Read Technology Review’s Business Impact section this month for a more detailed look at the intersection of IT and energy. It includes a Q&A with Facebook’s Bill Weihl, where he talks about these issues. The Greenpeace report also applauded Google’s expansive renewable energy efforts. You can read more about Google’s work here.