Greenpeace: Facebook’s Solar Use ‘Encouraging’

Facebook has built a large solar array next to its new data center in Prineville, Oregon.

Greenpeace International today commended Facebook for its use of on-site solar panels to supplement utility power at its new data center in Prineville, Oregon. The positive comments by Greenpeace followed a year of critiques of Facebook over its use of utility electricity generated by “dirty coal” to support its huge new Oregon data center.

“Facebook is to be commended for their innovation on the energy efficiency side, and hopefully this initial investment in renewable energy will quickly translate into a bigger commitment to power Facebook with clean energy and move away from coal and other dirty sources of electricity,” said Daniel Kessler, communications manager for Greenpeace International, in an email.

Modest Power Output, But Symbolic Importance

The large solar array in Prineville makes Facebook one of only a handful of data centers in the world to install on-site solar power generation. The array can generate about 100 kilowatts of energy, with total expected production of 204,000 kilowatt hours a year. That’s a just a fraction of the power required to run a major data center, and will primarily be used to support office areas rather than server rooms. But Facebook’s solar installation seems to have changed the dialog with Greenpeace.

“Though this solar array may be quite small in the amount of electricity it can deliver relative to the amount required to power Facebook’s new data center, we see this as another encouraging sign that Facebook is beginning to look at both sides of the clean energy equation, which requires both energy efficiency AND clean sources of electricity,” said Kessler.

Efficiency AND Renewables

“This should include both “behind the meter” renewables as they started with the solar array in Prineville, combined with much larger bulk purchases of renewable electricity from local utilities and 3rd party renewable energy developers, much as Google has recently done in Iowa, and expect to see other companies follow suit in the near future,” he added.

Facebook’s Prinevlle facility gets its power from local utility PacificCorp., which generates a majority of its energy from coal. Wind, hydro and geothermal power currently make up about 21 percent of PacificCorp’s power mix.

Greenpeace is expected to release a report later this week taking a broader look at the impact of cloud computing on the environment.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. It is of course commendable to see the use of renewable energy resources. Let's understand though, that we're talking about a data center. The article mentions that the production of this solar array will be used for office areas only, but in any data center application, we'll be lucky to power the lights with today's solar technology. It's good that Greenpeace is impressed with this, but because of the state of the technology, any application of solar to a data center or similar demand industrial facility is mostly symbolic. Hopefully the days will come soon when solar can be a truly meaningful contributor to data center energy efficiency.

  2. I love positive stories about solar. It's the way the world is going.

  3. Moumita Sarkar

    It is really encouraging that facebook has invested in solar energy. Hoping to see that it increases its investment to fully support the solar power system as it will encourage other data centers to invest in solar energy.

  4. I have been in the Mechanical Contracting Biss for 35 years, I have personally built everything from Solar to Hydro to fuel burning....Encouraging is at best a pipe dream regarding solar....research and developement has not in the last 25 years been able to produce any major break through in increased productivity with regards to solar's ability to deliver energy in a cost effective manner, I love solar and wish it was all its trumped up to be...but the fact is...its just not!.....yes we need to reduce the use of Fossil fuels, but the reality is somebodys got to crack the solar deal soon or can it...stop selling us the Bologna about Solar..... I work with Data centers and do commissioning on a regular will never deliver the power needed in the near future to make $$$$ sense for the demand of power for a data center ....maybe parking lot lights...sorry...KT

  5. Adam

    "The array can generate about 100 kilowatts of energy, with total expected production of 204,000 kilowatt hours a year" So that is energy usage of about 10 houses... Seriously, if Greenpeace says this is encouraging, then they are beyond hopeless. This is a pure PR move on part of Facebook, nothing more. For numbers, a typical data center will use 10,000-20,000kW, depending on size and load. That's 90GWh-180GWh per year. This means the entire solar panel installation can supply up to 0.1% - 0.2% of that power... "Encouraging", I guess in an uninformed PR sort of way.... or in informed, sarcastic way.

  6. Encouraging to see FB dabbling with Solar power. Agree that its contribution is negligible in this application so must assume it was only to get mileage out of the media coverage. Still have to wonder though why data centres are constructed in environments with such high average ambient temperatures - stick it in an extremely hot place and pump huge amounts of energy into it to keep it cool - DUH!!! Lots of really cold places have great sun levels so using Solar there would have been a double whammy. Come on big business, get serious about the planet!

  7. Marion Thorne

    If solar is not the way to go....why is China developing ways to make cheaper pannels?

  8. Solar energy can be used to provide necessary cooling and dehumidification for data center environments, through liquid dessicant dehumidification and absorption chillers, saving millions of btuh annually. The constant load demands of data centers make solar thermal energy viable in many areas of the country. Photovoltaic panels with higher efficiencies are being developed right now in China, using innovative technologies to capture more electrons and channel current and reduce heat losses. Solar is not greenwash, solar is viable. Change your thinking from the 'same old, same old'.

  9. daniele quiteria

    com a energia solar reutilizar ^^ menos problemas na camada de ozônio :D