Dirty energy behind internet and wireless communications growth: Greenpeace study

Saturday, 23 April 2011 - 5:57pm IST | Place: San FranciscoNew Delhi | Agency: dna

The study highlights the growing environmental footprint of the online world and offers an evaluation of both good and bad energy choices by companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo! and others.

Despite some leadership by Yahoo!, Akamai, and Google, lack of transparency masks continued reliance on coal by Facebook and others to power the growth of cloud computing.

Greenpeace today released an international study that highlights the rapidly growing environmental footprint of the online world and offers an evaluation of both good and bad energy choices made by leading Information Technology (IT) companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo! and others.

“How Dirty is Your Data?” showcases the enormous amount of electricity required to power “the cloud” and finds that the information and communication technology sector (ICT), despite significant advances in energy efficient data center design, is both largely ignoring the importance of using renewable power as a top criterion for locating new infrastructure and is not transparent in disclosing its energy use.

From an Indian perspective the report highlights the reliance of the Indian telecommunication industry on diesel to power its exponential growth, inspite of existing cost-competitive renewable opportunities. Currently, the industry consumes over 2 billion liters of diesel at subsidised rates, emitting over 5.6 MtCO2e of carbon annually, which is 2% of country’s overall GHG emission. Considering that 40% of the over 300,000 existing mobile towers are located in rural areas, and significant expansions projected, a switch-over to renewable energy sources adds economic robustness and long-term profitability for Telecom companies.

“We expect the ICT sector to play a critical role in accelerating a shift to a low-carbon economy through the development of solutions and driving their operations with large-scale use of clean renewable energy, avoiding high carbon lock-ins.” said Greenpeace campaigner Abhishek Pratap. “But it is clear that the ICT and in particular the Telecom sector’s failure to address their growing carbon emissions hides a continued reliance on dirty diesel to power its current and future infrastructure. Consumers certainly would like to know that when they use mobiles or change their Facebook status, they are not contributing to toxic coal ash, global warming or future Fukishima’s.”

Greenpeace evaluated ten cloud companies on their transparency, infrastructure siting decisions, and mitigation strategies. Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Amazon, and others receive failing marks in one or more categories.

Key findings:

   • Despite the fact that data centers, which house the explosion of virtual information, currently consume 1.5-2% of all global electricity and are growing at a rate of 12% per year, companies in the sector, as a whole, do not release information on their energy use and its associated global warming emissions. (2)

· Some companies have coal intensity greater than the US grid average. One of the most popular social media companies, Facebook, is among the most dependent on coal-powered electricity at 53.2%.

· Yahoo! and Google seem to understand the importance of a renewable energy supply. Yahoo! has sited near sources of renewable energy, and Google is directly purchasing clean power. Their models should be employed and improved upon by other cloud companies.

· Of the ten brands graded, Akamai, a global content distribution network, earned top of the class recognition for transparency; Yahoo! had the strongest infrastructure siting policy; IBM and Google demonstrated the best overall approach to reduce their current footprints.

· In India, where there is limited reliable grid electricity, there is a tremendous opportunity for telecom operators to show leadership by investing in renewable energy, but many are relying on heavily polluting diesel generators to fuel their growth.

“Green IT should not be a choice between energy efficiency and clean electricity - companies need to give equal attention to both for green data centers,” Greenpeace IT policy analyst Gary Cook said. “As Yahoo! and Google are demonstrating, forward thinking companies can help lead us towards energy security and safety by stating a preference for renewable power and supporting strong policies that move us to a low carbon economy.”

The full report, along with a map of data centers of the evaluated companies and other information is available at www.greenpeace.org/coolit


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