According to the organization’s new report, entitled How Dirty Is Your Data?, data centres –used by Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and scores of other IT firms to store and move data at lightening speed – consume 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent of all global electricity.
The impact of that figure is compounded by the fact half of the It companies surveyed by Greenpeace said they still rely on coal for between 50 percent and 80 percent of their energy needs.
In addition, data centre clusters – involving companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple – are being established in locations such as Midwest and Southeastern US, where cheap coal-powered electricity is abundant.
“A few companies have taken steps to steer their infrastructure investments toward cleaner energy, but the sector as a whole remains focused on rapid growth,” the report says. “The replacement of dirty sources of electricity with clean renewable ones is still the crucial missing link in the sector’s sustainability efforts.”
Of the companies within the study, global content distribution network Akamai earned the top marks for its recognition of the need for reporting its in 72 countries activities globally; Yahoo!, meanwhile, had the strongest infrastructure citing policy.
But it was Google and IBM that demonstrated the most comprehensive overall approach to reducing their carbon footprint to date, Greenpeace said.
Fairing less well in the ranking was Apple, mainly due to its $1 billion investment in an “iDataCenter” in the US state of North Carolina. The facility is expected to require as much as 100 MW of power annually, equivalent to about 80,00 homes in the US or 250 homes in the EU, Greenpeace said.
North Carolina is widely considered to have America’s dirtiest electrical grid, with 61 percent of its energy coming from coal and 31 percent coming from nuclear.
This, Greenpeace says, “indicates a lack of a corporate commitment to clea energy supply for its cloud operations”.
“The fact that the alternative location for Apple’s iDataCenter was [the US state of ] Virginia, where electricity is also comes from very dirty sources, is an indication that, in addition to tax incentives, access to inexpensive energy, regardless of its source, is a key driver in Apple’s site selection,” the organization said.
The report also found that companies usually seek to shift a discussion of rising IT emissions to the sector’s vast gains in energy efficiency, with their technology reducing energy consumption elsewhere, but said these efforts do not go far enough.
“As the electricity demand of IT remains on the rise, efficiency can only slow emission growth,” Greenpeace says. “In order to achieve the reductions necessary to keep the sector’s emissions in check and maintain safe levels of global greenhouse gases, clean energy needs to become the primary source of power for IT infrastructure.”
For additional information: