Greenpeace: Apple’s Power ‘Dirty, Dangerous’

An aerial view of the new Apple data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

The environmental group Greenpeace has identified Apple as the leading offender in using energy from “dirty” sources to power its data centers, including coal and nuclear power. The group’s finding relies almost entirely on the impact of the company’s huge new data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

“The $1 Billion Apple iData Center in North Carolina, expected to open this spring, will consume as much as 100 MW of electricity, equivalent to the electricity usage of approximately 80,000 homes in the U.S. or over a quarter million in the E.U.,” Greenpeace writes in a report released Thursday and timed to Earth Day. “The surrounding energy grid has less than 5 percent clean energy, with the remaining 95 percent coming from dirty, dangerous sources like coal and nuclear.”

But the group’s scorecard raises questions about whether Greenpeace is gauging the actual impact of working data center facilities, or focusing on the companies that may generate the most headlines.  The iDataCenter has been the focus of intense speculation in the IT press and Mac enthusiast sites. Greenpeace’s focus on Apple was noted in headlines Thursday by CNN, Time, The Washington Post, PC World, Barrons, The Independent, The Atlantic, The Guardian and the Huffington Post.

Apple Mum on Power Usage

The problem: It’s not clear that Apple has even begun operating its North Carolina facility. Since Apple would likely scale its operations gradually, it could be years before the facility is using anywhere near the power capacity attributed to it by Greenpeace. And is the iDataCenter really wired for 100 megawatts, a number 33 percent beyond the capacity cited for any other data center cited in the Greenpeace study?

“As far as I know, there’s no known user on the planet that uses that much power in a single location,” said Scott Millar, director of the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation. Millar said Apple has not disclosed its planned power usage at its site in Maiden, which is in Catawba County.

Greenpeace’s Gary Cook said the group contacted Apple, but the company declined to discuss its power usage. Cook said the 100 megawatt estimate was developed based upon Apple’s stated investment of $1 billion and standard building costs for data center capacity.

Cook emphasized that although Greenpeace highlighted Apple’s energy use and power mix in its new report (How Dirty is Your Data?), the group is not focusing a specific campaign designed to influence the company’s data center site selection, as it has with its “Unfriend Dirty Coal” media initiative targeting Facebook.

‘Dirty Data Triangle’

But the Greenpeace report was sharply critical of the presence of Apple, Google and Facebook in North Carolina, which it labeled the “dirty data triangle.”

“These mega data centers, which will draw from some of the dirtiest generation mixes in the US, highlights the sway of low-cost energy, misplaced tax incentives, and a corresponding lack of commitment to clean energy,” Greenpeace writes.

Greenpeace objects to coal because of its impact on the environment, and opposes nuclear energy “because of its unacceptable risk to the environment and human health.” The group says expansion of nuclear power should be halted, and calls for the shutdown of all existing nuclear power plants.

Millar said Duke Energy, the local utility, currently sources 52 percent of its energy in the Carolinas from nuclear power, 37 percent from fossil fuels, and 7 percent from forms of hydro-electric power.

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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.

Add Your Comments

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  1. Ray

    Greenpeace -- please just go away.

  2. Chris

    Nuclear power is well regarded as clean. Greenpeace are blathering idiots.

  3. Guest

    One things for sure, North Carolina is winning the race to the bottom.

  4. Guest

    With that said, I disagree with Greenpeace on Nuclear. Reckless nuclear energy (aging plants that receive no investment) is dangerous. Responsible nuclear energy is still somewhat dangerous but a heck of a lot safer than the alternatives. I mean it can be far safer then getting behind the wheel of you car and heading out on the highway safe.

  5. Hamilton

    Also, Greenpeace inflated the coal mix to make Apple look bad. Brian Caulfield from Forbes found the true coal mix to be 44%, not 62% as stated by Greenpeace. So let's evaluate Greenpeace's rationale for attacking Apple i) Apple's NC coal intensity was 62%: Nope it was 44% ii) Apple's data centre is consuming 100MW of power: Very unlikely and anyway the facility hasn't opened yet......ooops again. Gary Cook authored the expensive Greenpeace report. With this outstanding display of ineptitude it'll be interesting to watch where this takes his career.

  6. Data Dude

    Greenpeace did not do it's due diligence. Besides the previously mentioned exaggeration in the coal mix, a) the substation that serves this facility is rated for 67 mw. b) the facility will be actually utilizing even less, just count the number of 3mw generator bays from the dozens of aerial shots. c) Apple went to great lengths to ensure that as much of the workforce and materials were sourced locally in order to minimize the overall carbon impact. This added tens of millions of dollars to the project cost, but was a key demand from Apple. The facility also utilizes some unique cooling techniques to reduce the mechanical load, and severely cut down on the amount of water that is used to operate the facility.

  7. space guru

    Thank you Greenpeace! It isn't necessary to make assumptions about a company you guys just seem to hate. All you're going to do is alienate Greenpeace as another right winged fascist ecosystem flag waver. How about another approach wait for the facts before you open your mouths, discuss and have a conversation with Apple about your concerns. Apple being Apple is a company who wishes to produce and manufacture products that are ecosafe. If you don't know that you have not been paying attention.

  8. Andreas Fink

    Well I'm surprised that Apple can still do such a thing. Other datacenters work on 100% green renewable energy and don't create nuclear waste neither. And the good thing is the energy is even 80% cheaper and require less energy due to easier cooling. Iceland is the place for datacenters. See They've just have built their own datacenters run in 100% green energy. And they have a few gigawatts of spare energy from geothermal sources.

  9. Sasha S.

    Apple building 174 acre solar farm to power North Carolina data center: Charlotte Observer is reporting that Apple has begun work building a 174 acre solar farm to power their new Maiden, North Carolina data center. The data center, located in Catawba County, was revealed by Steve Jobs during the iOS 5 keynote at WWDC this year, and will be partly responsible for powering iCloud. It was revealed earlier this year that Apple was purchasing land around the data center. Now we know why.

  10. Jon

    It's quite clear that nobody commenting here has actually read the report. Regardless, if it's accurate to the Nth percentile or not, the idea is chilling to the core and should be a wake up call from the future. Ring-Ring: Hi, it's the future calling... You're going to need 500 more Data Centers just as big and have you guys in the past figured out what you're going to do about the Heat waste?