[Editor's Note: Facebook and Greenpeace's responses to this article are found at the end of this story.]
In stark contrast to the unveiling yesterday by Yahoo of one of the world’s greenest data centers, social media giant Facebook has been under pressure by supporters of Greenpeace to use renewable energy for its data centers instead of fossil fuels like coal. This has been at the heart of a battle between the two in regards to a new data center here in Oregon, where EarthTechling is headquartered.
The question now is: has Greenpeace’s effort to get Facebook to change its ways worked? Until recently, the company has put out a mixed response: on the one hand it called its new Prineville data center one of the most energy efficient to date. On the other hand, a Facebook representative told Greenpeace that “it is simply untrue to say that we chose coal as a source of power. The suggestions of ‘choosing coal’ ignores the fact that there is no such thing as a coal-powered data center. Similarly, there is no such thing as a hydroelectric-powered data center. Every data center plugs into the grid offered by their utility or power provider….Even when a facility is in close proximity to an individual source of energy, such a dam or coal plant, there is no guarantee that the electricity produced by that source is flowing to the facility at any particular time.” In this regard, it put the issue at the feet of the local energy provider, Pacific Power, by saying that it “has an energy mix that is weighted slightly more toward coal than the national average (58% vs. about 50%).”
We now fast forward to today. A Facebook conversation reportedly between a Greenpeace supporter and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook states that in the future “the newer ones we’re building from scratch here in Oregon use hydro power from dams. We’re moving in the right direction here.” (Screenshot below provided to EarthTechling by Greenpeace: screenshot edited to protect privacy of Greenpeace supporter involved in conversation – Editor)
If this information is accurate, which we are awaiting further confirmation on from Greenpeace and Facebook, does it mean Greenpeace has made Facebook go greener? Or does it mean simply that, given the abundance of renewable energy resources here in the Pacific Northwest, Facebook chose to make sure its future data centers use cleaner sources of power? Hydropower, granted, has its share of eco-issues (i.e. dams which alter the flow of rivers and imperil fish populations), but it still is a better step forward than coal-burning energy plants. We will update this story when, and if, we get comments back from Greenpeace and Facebook.
Comment From Greenpeace: “The IT sector can lead on climate change, but not by increasing demand for coal. They have the technologies, the buying power, and the name brand recognition to drive a clean energy economy. Facebook can help lead.”
Comment from Facebook: “Mark’s comments above are with regard to the Hydro mix within PacifiCorp’s portfolio (PacifiCorp is the power provider for the data center in Prineville). They currently have 11% hydro power. They are also 10% wind and other renewable sources. The point is that the data center is already powered in part by renewable energy, PacificCorp has committed to increasing that portion, and the stat Greenpeace quotes—83% coal-fired power—is either a mistake or simply a bold-faced lie.
In addition to this power mix, we’ve invested thousands of people hours and tens of millions of dollars into efficiency technology and, when it is completed, our Oregon facility may be the most efficient data center in the world. In addition to cooling innovations, this data center will use software that reduces demand for servers by 50% (http://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-engineering/hiphop-for-php-six-months-later/416880943919). We have made this software available for free to any company, which could dramatically reduce the power needs of an entire industry.”