Will Facebook Disclose An Energy Plan?

On July 22nd, Facebook announced that it has a population larger than the United States, Mexico, and Canada, combined, but it remains unknown what the popular social networking site will do in regard to its carbon footprint as it continues to expand. Greenpeace has challenged Facebook to commit to going coal free, but its new data center is powered by coal power, the United States’ biggest source of greenhouse gases.

In January, Facebook announced that it will build a massive data center in Prineville, Oregon, that will run on coal. Almost 400,000 people have joined a Facebook group calling on Facebook to move away from increasing both the demand and use of coal.

Data centers are huge consumers of electricity, and with the shift to “cloud computing” platforms like Facebook just beginning to change how the internet works, energy demand will continue to grow.  Companies that run their data center on power from burning coal are supporting the biggest source of man-made CO2 emissions in the world.

Facebook, which is rumored to have created a new energy policy, confronts the same choices and challenges that other large “cloud computing” companies have in building their data centers. While other companies have chosen Oregon as a good choice given the abundant hydropower, it is expected to become more expensive by the time Facebook’s data center is online. Facebook has chosen instead to go with PacifiCorp, a power company that gets the majority of its power from coal-fired power stations.

“The only truly green data center are the types that don’t use coal,” said Gary Cook, Greenpeace International policy analyst. “Yahoo, for instance, built a data center near Buffalo, New York, that is powered by hydroelectric power, decreasing the data center’s carbon footprint.  “Facebook and all IT companies must use their power and influence to site their data centers where renewable power is available and continue to push for policies that will move the US past coal.”

A Greenpeace report found that at current growth rates, data centers and telecommunication networks, which bring information to mobile devices like the iPad, will consume about 1,963 billion kilowatts hours of electricity in 2020, more than triple their current consumption and over half the current electricity consumption of the United States — or more than France, Germany, Canada and Brazil — combined.

Facebook has responded to criticism over its decision by pointing to its highly energy efficient design standards and equipment specification. But Greenpeace says that given the massive amounts of electricity even energy efficient data centers consume to run computers, backup power, and related cooling equipment, “the last thing we need for them to be doing is building them in places where they are increasing demand for dirty coal fired power. If your Facebook page is being powered by coal, then it’s contributing to climate change,” said Cook.

Greenpeace is pressuring information technology and communication companies through its Cool IT campaign to play an important role in the fight to save our climate by using their influence to change government policies to dramatically increase the supply of renewable electricity being put in grid and to create solutions for economy-wide greenhouse gas emission reductions.

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