March 22, 2013 2:21 pm

Apple data centres run only on renewables

Apple has announced that its data centres are now running exclusively on renewable energy, laying down the gauntlet to other big internet companies such as Google and Facebook.

Apple said the announcement was the result of using its own energy production, special off-grid energy deals with suppliers and reducing overall power use.

The move follows increasing pressure on companies with sprawling data centres to end their reliance on so-called “dirty” energy such as that generated by coal-fired power stations.

The maker of iPhones and Mac computers said it was now using only renewable energy for its data centres and offices in Austin, Elk Grove, Cork, Munich and the Infinite Loop campus in Cupertino, where the company is based.

However, Apple’s corporate facilities worldwide were still using 25 per cent non-renewable energy. “We won’t stop working until we achieve 100 per cent throughout Apple,” the company said.

The statistics do not include Apple’s manufacturing operations. They are outsourced to China’s Foxconn, which itself has marred Apple’s clean image with a scandal over working conditions at its factories.

Services such as Apple’s iCloud services and iTunes media store require sprawling data centres to host content and customer data. As their popularity grows, driven largely by a booming smartphone market, so too must the data centres, leading to concerns about energy use and cost.

About a quarter of the running cost of a typical data centre is spent on electricity. Apple’s effort to provide a clean image will cost the company more, but give it a competitive edge with consumers who want to use environmentally friendly products.

Google and Facebook, who have significantly bigger online offerings, will now face pressure to do the same.

Apple has long faced tough scrutiny from environmental groups. Last year it caused a controversy when it removed its products from EPEAT, the US government-backed registration of environmentally friendly electronics.

At the time the company said its design direction was no longer consistent with EPEAT requirements, which require equipment to be easily disassembled for recycling.

A week later the company posted an apology on its website and rejoined the programme.

The same year Greenpeace, the environmental activists, started a petition to ‘Clean Apple’s Cloud’, pointing out the company’s data centres relied on coal-fired electricity.

In September Google moved to placate Greenpeace with a contract to obtain 48MW of wind energy from the Canadian Hills Wind Project in Oklahoma to power its data centre in that state, the first time Google had bought wind power from a utility.

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