Are Facebook Data Centers Going Green??

[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)

Facebook green

image via Greenpeace

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% (   We have made this software available for free to any company, which could dramatically reduce the power needs of an entire industry.”

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I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.

1 Comment

  • Reply September 21, 2010

    Rajan Alexander

    A Greenpeace Membership could land you in the US Terror Database!

    You may think it innocuous but in future, with a membership with organizations like Greenpeace you may have to say practically goodbye to studying, immigrating or visiting the US simply because you could be in their terror database. With the US in the lead can other countries not but follow suit? Why? There are indications that the world might be finally losing its patience with the increasing trend of eco-terrorism that flows from the Greenpeace type model of protests. The tipping point apparently had been the twin events of the Discovery Channel hostage crisis in the US and Greenpeace’s unconstitutional assault on an oil rig in Greenland that had their respective governments fuming.

    A new report by terrorism researchers at the University of Maryland concludes that the deadly hostage-taking incident at the Discovery Communications headquarters in suburban Washington, D.C. meets the criteria of a terrorist act. And why this report is significant is that they happen to be the wing of Homeland Security Department of the US government.

    Read more: Defeated & Frustrated: Climate Activists Turn to Terror, Go Berserk

    How silly can Greenpeace get? Imagine appealing to Dr. ManMohan Singh to save our Monsoons?

    The year 2009-10, India suffered its worst drought in almost four decades, with monsoon rains 22% below average. As seen in the photo, Greenpeace activists then hung an 80-foot banner from the Mumbai-Thane Bridge addressed to the Indian prime minister on June 4, 2009. It requested him to save our monsoons given the drought situation. How mischievous this tactic is illustrated by their article 29th June 2009, titled “It’s anomaly reigning” posted 29th June 2009 in the Greenpeace India website – just a few days after this stunt:

    “On assessing the historical data, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its fourth Assessment Report suggested, “warming in India is likely to be above the average for South Asia, with an increase in summer precipitation and an increase in the frequency of intense precipitation in some parts.” That the Indian monsoons are going to undergo gross changes as a direct result of climate change – rainfall will increase by ~ 20 per cent overall in the summer monsoon, but the distribution of this increase will not be evenly spread across the country.”

    So what’s Greenpeace’s actual position any way? Does global warming cause increased or decreased rainfall? They say both. This is not strange, as global warming according to its proponents can do almost everything and anything like simultaneously making sea water more salty and less salty! But it does not matter really as global warming or CO2 has nothing to do with monsoon intensity. But it finds a perfect 1:1 correlation fit with ENSO – El Nino (La Nina) Southern Oscillation.

    However, if the IPCC painted scenario had only been true, an increase by 20% in rainfall could have given India a double digit growth rate for agriculture and at least double of that in terms of GDP. Such stupendous growth could have wiped out the face of poverty within 5-10 years in our country. If this is “climate change”, Indians should be welcoming it with open arms. But alas, more than a decade has passed after the IPCC had predicted such a scenario but we find practically no such change in our rainfall long period average (LPA). The LPA, even factoring the current “exceptional” summer rainfall, remains still a tad below 100%.

    This typical means justify end tactics not only eats into the credibility of not only Greenpeace but the entire NGO and environmental organizations. What public credibility has NGO/environment groups left with if NGOs and environmental groups pursue advocacy clams that have no factual basis? If they tout they follow evidence based M&E then they should ensure their advocacy campaigns reflect this value as well.

    Read more:

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