Apple, Facebook and Google are leading a growing number of tech companies that are working to power the Internet with 100 percent renewable energy, signaling a major shift in the sector over the past two years, according to a new report released today by Greenpeace. Those companies are leaving behind Amazon Web Services, the company that hosts the data for many of the Internet’s most popular services, which powers its infrastructure with polluting energy sources that contribute to global warming, the report found.
The report, 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, according to the report. 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 Greenpeace’s Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook. “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.”
Greenpeace evaluated the energy choices of 19 leading Internet companies, surveying their electricity supply chains of over 300 data centers. Five of those companies — Apple, Facebook and Google, along with fast-growing business-to-business companies Rackspace and Salesforce — have committed to a goal of powering their operations with 100 percent renewable energy.
Apple became the first company to achieve its 100 percent renewable energy goal to power its iCloud, leading the companies evaluated with its Clean Energy Index of 100 percent. Apple is operating the largest privately owned solar installation in the US at its North Carolina data center.
“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 is dragging much of the Internet down with it.”
Meanwhile, 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, including 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.
Amazon Web Services, which hosts a large part of the Internet, including popular companies including Pinterest, Netflix, Spotify, Tumblr, Airbnb, Yelp and Vine, currently sources only 15 percent of its electricity demand with clean energy, according to the report; coal powers 28 percent of the company’s cloud, nuclear 27 percent, and gas 25 percent. Amazon’s growth is fueling the increased use and construction of coal and gas-burning power plants in Virginia, and has jeopardized clean energy growth in Oregon. While 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, and has made no efforts to procure cleaner electricity, in stark contrast to its social media rival Facebook.
Greenpeace assessed colocation data center companies, which rent out data center space to customers, for the first time in Clicking Clean, finding 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 percent 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.
One company not included in the Clicking Clean investigation but making bold commitments that would make Greenpeace proud is SAP, which announced last week that it will power all its data centers and facilities globally with 100 percent renewable electricity starting in 2014.
And Microsoft, which earned some favorable mentions in Greenpeace's report, announced in its 2013 Citizenship report that it had achieved carbon neutrality, after introducing an internal carbon fee for renewable energy and carbon offsets; this led the company to increase its purchase of renewables in the US by 70 percent, from 1.1 billion kWh in 2011 to 1.9 billion kWh in 2012.