updated 09:15 pm EDT, Tue April 17, 2012
Cites bad data, says NC facility will use 20MW
Apple has responded to criticism from environmental pressure group Greenpeace, which yesterday issued a report criticizing some of the biggest technology companies for lack of transparency on using sustainable resources for their cloud data centers. The Mac maker said Greenpeace's claims regarding Apple's North Carolina data center are based on bad data, claiming that it uses five times the amount of power that it actually does.
The report itself [PDF link] appears to contain a number of flaws, at least in regards to Apple. In addition to claiming the Maiden, North Carolina facility will use 100 megawatts of power, it later says Apple's efforts at renewable power will only generate "about 10 percent" of the facilities needs, even though it acknowledges that the planned solar array and biogas fuel cell together will generate about 25MW.
It also assumes that Apple's future Oregon data center will rely on "dirty" coal power to run, even though the company has said that the Prineville, Oregon plant will use another solar array to run "a high percentage" of the facility. In its response, Apple revealed for the first time that the Maiden facility will use about 20MW at full capacity, and that it now expects that the Oregon center will use "100 percent renewable energy."
Informed of Apple's response, Greenpeace's Gary Cook questioned how Apple's 500,000 square-foot Maiden data center could consume only 20MW of power, but said the group welcomed more transparency from Apple on the matter. Greenpeace's report criticized a number of tech companies, including Google, Facebook and Yahoo, for building data centers in states that rely on coal or nuclear power -- regardless of whether the data centers actually use such power or not, apparently.
Greenpeace uses its reports and publicity to pressure companies to use more renewable energy as part of a campaign to raise public awareness about the environmental "footprint" of large data facilities. Some have criticized their tactics, saying their findings are often speculative and deliberately designed to misinform consumers in the hopes that public pressure will force companies to be more transparent.
In the case of the estimate for Apple's use, Greenpeace based its estimate of Apple's likely power needs by simply dividing the $1 billion Apple said it would spend on the facility by a "rule" that suggests 1MW of power for every $15 million in servers. In addition to ignoring that a substantial part of the $1 billion price tag would be for constructing the solar array and fuel cell, the organization also appears to have ignored the fact that only a portion of the facility's 500,000 square feet would actually be used for servers.
Apple has previously said that it expects about 60 percent of the North Carolina facility's energy needs will be met by the solar array, though it may be planning to increase that. The Oregon facility will use much less power thanks to its location; cool desert winds and the design of the plant will reduce energy costs naturally, alongside the solar array.