Facebook Arctic Center Gets Greenpeace Like

Facebook has come into criticism from environmentalists for not doing enough to make its server farms sustainable, but the social media behemoth is winning measured praise after confirming it will build a data center in Sweden that – in the words of the Swedish agency helping finance its construction – “has the capacity to be drawn from 100 percent renewable resources.”

“This is a great step forward for Facebook, but we would like more details on how much renewable energy will power its data centre in Lulea,” Casey Harrell, a Greenpeace IT analyst, said in a statement. “With the IT sector one of the fastest growing consumers of electricity in the world, Facebook’s taking leadership on renewable energy could help determine whether we have a dirty ‘cloud’ or not.” The firm NCC Construction Sweden said it was awarded the Lulea contract, and that “Facebook has imposed stringent energy-classification requirements and the data center will be certified in accordance with LEED’s gold level.”

facebook sweden data center

image via Sweco

For more than a year and a half Greenpeace has been waging an “Unfriend Coal” campaign in which some 700,000 have urged Facebook “to go greener by shifting its investment from coal, to electricity generated from renewable energy sources,” Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace began poking at Facebook in early 2010, after the company announced it would open a data center in the central Oregon town of Prineville. Greenpeace and other critics seized on the fact that the local utility, Pacific Power, gets 60 percent of its electricity from burning coal. Nationally, 45 percent of electricity is produced from coal, according to government data. But Facebook said all along that the center – now open and expanding – was being built with plenty of energy-efficiency features, including an evaporative cooling system, use of outside air for cooling for most of the year and reuse of server heat. The company went so far as to make the center’s specifications public, saying it wanted others to learn the techniques that allow Prineville to use 38 percent less energy than comparable data centers.

Lulea is 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle in an area with vast hydroelectric resources. According to the Associated Press, Facebook plans to build three 300,000-square-foot buildings for its servers there. The AP said the data center will require 120 megawatts of power, which would come entirely from hydro.

Facebook told the news agency that expansion to Europe reflected the company’s need to serve a user base that now comes mostly from outside the United States, and would provide European users better performance.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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