John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Greenpeace’s Hazy iCloud Numbers

How clean is Apple’s iCloud?

Not very, according to Greenpeace, which describes it as among “the dirtiest thing[s] on the internet.” In a report released today, the environmental organization slammed Apple as among cloud computing’s worst eco-offenders (along with Amazon and Microsoft), claiming the company relies too heavily on coal to power its data centers and has fallen short on its efforts to source clean energy. Coal-based energy makes up 55 percent of Apple’s data center power, Greenpeace claims.

“Apple right now is falling behind companies like Google and Facebook, who are taking a leadership role on this issue,” said Greenpeace spokesman Dave Pomerantz. “It’s a shame that a company that built its reputation on thinking differently is now behind the curve.”

But according to Apple, it’s not the one behind the curve here. And, more to the point, it says Greenpeace has gotten its numbers wrong.

According to Apple, its Maiden, North Carolina, data center requires just 20 megawatts when it’s running full bore, and well over half of that energy will come from renewable sources as soon as the 171-acre solar array it is building nearby is finished.

But according to Greenpeace, the Maiden facility requires 100 MW of power running at full capacity, of which renewable energy powers 10 percent and coal 55.1 percent.

Odd, considering Microsoft’s Quincy, Washington, data center, which is exactly the same size as Apple’s, only requires 27 MW, and its Chicago facility, which is 200,000 square feet larger, requires 60 MW.

How is it that a fully operational 700,000 square foot data center demands significantly less power than a not-yet-finished 500,000 square foot one?

And how is it that Apple’s Maiden data center is running on 55.1 percent coal, when publicly available records show that 46 percent of the power Duke Energy supplies it with is coal-fired?

That’s not clear, and Greenpeace initially didn’t have much of an explanation. The organization referred me to the EPA’s 2010 eGrid data for North Carolina on which its report is based. But that draws from data collected in 2007. As for why Microsoft’s fully operational 700,000 square foot data center requires 40 MW less energy to run than Apple’s not-yet-fully operational 500,000 square foot data center, Greenpeace referred my question to Microsoft.

Apple, on the other hand, was more than happy to talk up its power plans.

“Our data center in North Carolina will draw about 20 megawatts at full capacity, and we are on track to supply more than 60 percent of that power on-site from renewable sources, including a solar farm and fuel cell installation which will each be the largest of their kind in the country,” Apple spokesperson Kristen Huguet told AllThingsD. “We believe this industry-leading project will make Maiden the greenest data center ever built, and it will be joined next year by our new facility in Oregon running on 100 percent renewable energy.”

In response to that response, Greenpeace said that Apple’s information just doesn’t jibe with the factors of investment and facility size used in making its estimates.

UPDATE: Good analysis of Greenpeace’s dubious math by Rich Miller over at Data Center Knowledge.


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