IT and coal

From Global Energy Monitor

According to the 2011 Greenpeace report, "How Dirty is Your Data?", data centres housing virtual information currently consume 1.5-2% of all global electricity, use that is growing at a rate of 12% a year.

Greenpeace followed up the report with "How Clean is Your Cloud?" in 2012. The annual report examined the server farms built by the largest Internet companies — including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo — and ranked them according to how efficient their cloud facilities are, and where they get their electricity. The report found that Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft continue to rapidly add server capacity, and rely heavily on coal for the energy. According to Greenpeace's estimates, the three firms get roughly 85 percent of their power from coal or nuclear plants. The report does not break out natural gas as a source of power in the U.S. The firms' servers use only about 15 percent or less of their power from renewable and other clean sources, according to the group.[1]

Coal footprint of large IT companies

Looking at some of the largest IT companies - (Amazon Web Services), Apple, Facebook, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo - a 2011 Greenpeace report found that over half of the companies rely on coal for between 50% and 80% of their energy needs, according to publicly available data.[2] Specifically, the report rated the following "coal intensity" values for the companies, based upon estimates of power demand and the type of power used for the companies' data centers:[3]

  • - 28.5%
  • Apple - 54.5%
  • Facebook - 53.2%
  • Google- 34.7%
  • HP - 49.4%
  • IBM - 51.6%
  • Microsoft - 34.1%
  • twitter - 42.5%
  • Yahoo - 18.3%

Facebook and coal

It was announced in January 2010 that the popular social networking site Facebook would build its first data center in the eastern Oregon town of Prineville. The 147,000 square foot facility will cost approximately $200 million. It will be the first data center Facebook has built. Supporters say the plant will provide needed jobs. However, critics claim that the plant's need for electricity will be substantial, pointing out that Prineville's utility company PacifiCorp generates the majority of its power from coal.[4]

A Facebook group titled "Get Facebook off Coal" has drawn over 8,000 thousands of members as of late February 2010. Another group by the name of "We want Facebook to use 100% renewable energy" has also accumulated over 12,000 members as of February 25, 2010. Campaigners that oppose Facebook's decision to build a plant hope that pressure from Facebook users could force the company to reconsider its decision to power the facility by burning coal.[5]

It was announced in April 2011 that Facebook would install a large solar array in Prineville, Oregon, making it one of only a handful of data centers in the world to install on-site solar power generation. The solar array is reported to be able to generate about 100 kilowatts of energy, with a total expected production of 204,000 kilowatt hours a year. This amount is only a small fraction of the power required to run a major data center and will primarily be used to support office areas rather than server rooms.[6]

Apple and coal

After publication of the 2012 Greenpeace report, Apple posted an announcement on its website saying that "by the end of 2012, we’ll meet the energy needs of our Maiden, North Carolina, data center using entirely renewable sources. To achieve this, we’re building our own facilities that will provide over 60 percent of the clean power we need.... To do that, we’re building what will be the nation’s largest private solar arrays and the largest non-utility fuel cell installation operating anywhere in the country."[7]



  1. "How Clean is Your Cloud?" Greenpeace report, 2012.
  2. "How Dirty is Your Data?" Greenpeace Report, April 2011.
  3. "How Dirty Is Your Data (2011): Company Data Centre Facilities and Estimates of Power Demand" Greenpeace, April 2011.
  4. Facebook takes heat over coal-fired power in its Prineville data center Mike Rogoway, The Oregonian, February 23, 2010
  5. Facebook gets slammed by environmentalists USA Today, February 22, 2010
  6. "Greenpeace: Facebook’s Solar Use ‘Encouraging’" Rich Miller, Data Knowledge Center, April 18, 2011.
  7. "Data centers and renewable energy," Apple website, May 2012.

Related articles