With all the noise that Greenpeace is making over the Facebook datacenter and its use of electricity from a vendor that gets 58% of their power from coal (8% higher than the national average), I've been wondering which windmill that Greenpeace would tilt at next. A blog in yesterday's Seattle Times gave me an idea.
Clearly backup power generation is the next target. After all, running those big diesels is clearly environmentally bad. They use immense amounts of diesel fuel and generate toxic pollutants. Large datacenters clearly run the risk of doing major environmental damage should their primary power source go down. So Greenpeace should make a major lobbying effort for the replacement of these diesel backup generators with something more environmentally friendly.
After all we're talking about backup generators here, not the primary power source, so it should be a simple matter to replace their power generation capabilities with something else. And of course there are an abundance of solutions capable of generating 10s of Megawatts of power in any desired location.
OK, maybe there aren't. And an attempt by Greenpeace to lobby against diesel generates would do little to generate a half-million member Facebook group and its attendant publicity. In fact, it would likely generate significant negative publicity in the public mind, as the concept of emergency generators, like the ones used by hospitals in major power outages, is much easier to grasp than the complex economics and energy issues that are used to determine the energy efficiency and economic viability of the location a datacenter is built.
Attempting to push greener energy by mob rule isn't the way to go about effecting long-lasting change. Facebook's datacenter will just about be a model of energy efficiency, and attempting to paint them as the bad guy because of the constituent components of the electrical power that they need to buy is simply sophistry. Greenpeace had a good point to make, but why lose whatever positive response it gets in the technical community by beating it to death.