Greenpeace's tenacious Facebook attack shines light on need for 'green cloud' options

Greenpeace's tenacious Facebook attack shines light on need for 'green cloud' options

Summary: Environmental activist organization Greenpeace just won't get off Facebook's case for planning to invest in a data center facility that happens to be powered by "dirty coal-fired electricity." The latest development is that the Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo has sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to reconsider its planned facility in Prineville, Oregon, which uses power from Pacific Power.


Environmental activist organization Greenpeace just won't get off Facebook's case for planning to invest in a data center facility that happens to be powered by "dirty coal-fired electricity." The latest development is that the Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo has sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to reconsider its planned facility in Prineville, Oregon, which uses power from Pacific Power. As evidence that Facebook SHOULD be interested in this issue, Naidoo points to the Facebook: Unfriend Coal page, which actually has close to 600,000 followers right now. Greenpeace appears to be wanting to guilt Facebook into reconsidering its position by pointing to what other huge forces in cloud computing are doing right:

"Other cloud-based companies face similar choices and challenges as you do in building data centers, yet many are making smarter and cleaner investments. Google, for instance, entered into a long-term agreement with a large wind power producer earlier this month. It has demonstrated that it is not only possible to prioritize the purchase of clean energy, but prudent as well."

Certainly, I have heard very little about Facebook's green IT agenda. If the company wants to be taken seriously, it definitely needs to address this issue -- either by disproving Greenpeace's core argument or by working with its data center power company to address the issue of clean generating capacity.

This whole issue has got me wondering about the infrastructure behind two other big-time cloud services, and, so I'll be doing some research into this. Meanwhile, thought it relevant to mention a new service provider that is trying to position itself as a "green cloud" option.

That Iceland-based company, called GreenQloud, describes itself at the world's first truly green public compute cloud option. The company's founder and CEO, Eirikur Hrafnsson, says the electricity powering his data center is based entirely on geothermal and hydropower sources. The company, which has used CloudStack from to build out its infrastructure, is piggybacking on Amazon's cloud traction to lure would-be tenants. Hrafnsson says GreenQloud uses a clone of the Amazon APIs, which means that it would be easy to port services build for Amazon over to GreenQloud. In addition, it is seeking companies that need a high-performance computing environment for their services. "This is a cloud that is ideal for use for scientific computing," he says.

GreenQloud isn't even available yet -- it's operating in a limited alpha test and is seeking prospects for a broader beta program this fall. Hrafnsson says the service should have a wider launch in March or April 2011.

Topics: Data Centers, Amazon, Cloud, Google,

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Greenpeace's tenacious Facebook attack shines light on need for 'green cloud' options

    We agree that environmental responsibility is important and we are committed to it as a company. In addition, we are proud that our service is used by more than 500 million people around the world to connect and interact in place of many more carbon-intensive activities such as air travel and postal mail.

    Overall, we're thrilled at our choice in Oregon and we're challenging the industry to meet the standards we?re setting in energy efficiency there. As we continue to grow, we?ll seek and evaluate more ways to minimize and offset our environmental impact (on the planet). Our move from many smaller leased data centers to fewer larger customized data centers that we own is a great example. That is, the small data centers where we rent space are designed to accommodate many different companies, computers and services. By definition, these facilities can?t be customized for us and, because we must rent from multiple providers, we can?t customize our infrastructure for them. The sum of all the pieces that are designed to do more than is needed is a system that is not as efficient as it could be. It?s like driving a Hummer which is able to navigate any terrain when all you really need is a Prius to get you around. On the other hand, the data center we are building will be just for Facebook?the computers, racks, cooling, building and other parts of the facility are all specially designed to work together in the most efficient and minimal way possible.

    In addition, in selecting Oregon, we chose a region that offers a uniquely dry and temperate climate. This climate enable us to go beyond just customization in design, but also to think innovatively about what else we can do to use less energy. For example, almost all data centers use mechanical chillers or large air conditioners for part, if not all, of the year to cool the computers within the facility. These mechanical chillers use a lot of energy and are only exceeded in their energy use by the thousands of computers inside the data center. Because of the climate around Prineville and our unique design, we won?t use any mechanical chillers. None. We won?t even build any. Instead, the data center will use an innovative evaporative cooling system.

    Imagine two identical houses with all of the same power consumption inside (appliances, electronics, etc.) only one is cooled by a large air conditioner and the other is cooled by ceiling fans. Obviously, the house with the fans will use significantly less energy. That?s why you may get rebates from your power company when you install a ceiling fan and why our data center will use less energy to deliver our service to people.

    All of these investments in efficiency design, planning and technology will result in one of, if not the most, energy efficient data centers in the world. Data center energy efficiency is measured by Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE). The industry average for PUE ranges from 1.6 to over 2. Our Prineville data center will have a PUE of 1.15.

    At the same time, it is simply untrue to say that we chose coal as a source of power. The suggestions of ?choosing coal? ignores the fact that there is no such thing as a coal-powered data center. Similarly, there is no such thing as a hydroelectric-powered data center. Every data center plugs into the grid offered by their utility or power provider. The electrons powering that data center are produced by the various sources (e.g. hydro, natural gas, coal, geothermal, wind, etc.) the provider uses in proportions similar to the mix of sources used. That is, if 25 percent of the provider?s energy comes from natural gas, it?s a good guess that 25 percent of the electrons powering the facility come from that source. Even when a facility is in close proximity to an individual source of energy, such a dam or coal plant, there is no guarantee that the electricity produced by that source are flowing to the facility at any particular time.

    It?s true that the local utility for the region we chose, Pacific Power, has an energy mix that is weighted slightly more toward coal than the national average (58% vs. about 50%). However, the efficiency we are able to achieve because of the climate of the region minimizes our overall carbon footprint. Said differently, if we located the data center most other places, we would need mechanical chillers, use more energy, and be responsible for an overall larger environmental impact?even if that location was fueled by more renewable energy.

    In addition, we plan to have our data center in Prineville for a long time so when considering the sources of energy, we took a long term view. The state of Oregon has an aggressive plan for increasing their renewable energy mix. In fact, Pacific Power plans to increase their renewable energy mix in the coming years. Their most recent plan calls for having more than 2,000 megawatts of renewable resources by 2013. Thus, our data center is only going to get greener over time as these resources come on line and contribute to even greater proportions of the facility?s energy.

    Finally, Greenpeace?s own infrastructure illustrates many of the challenges we face. As recently as March of this year, they indicated that they had a number of servers in a rented data center in northern Virginia ( Their representative commented that these servers are ?using whatever the grid mix is in Virginia.? The reporter on the story estimates that mix to be 46% from coal, 41% from nuclear, 8% from natural gas, and just 4% of its power from renewable generation. While this mix includes a little less coal than Pacific Power, there is 5 times as much renewable energy available in Central Oregon (i.e. Pacific Power includes more than 20% renewable sources). I honestly can?t say whether the energy mix in Northern Virginia or Central Oregon emits more carbon per watt. That?s not the point.

    We also recognize that Greenpeace?s technology infrastructure is probably small compared to ours. The point is, if an organization focused on environmental responsibility like Greenpeace can?t do better than the mix above for just a few servers, what options are available to Facebook? Unfortunately, there just isn?t a perfect solution yet. Therefore, we strongly believe that the best way to minimize our impact is to concentrate on efficiency and building servers that work towards that goal. We have invested heavily in efficiency are very proud of our achievements. We would welcome the opportunity to partner with Greenpeace to challenge others to meet our efficiency standards and, in parallel, help the world move to more renewable energy sources.

    Sorry to drone on for so long but I hope this has been helpful.


    Barry Schnitt
    Director, Policy Communications
  • 58% Coal is still 58% Coal

    Both parties are partially right in this debate.

    Barry please don't over emphasize Facebook's data center's efficiency (to confuse consumers?) when you are indeed, like you say, using 58% coal to power a huge data center? There is a BIG difference in powering "a few server", like you call Greenpeaces data center, vs. the energy needed to serve part of your 500M users and the emissions from doing that. Do you expect to grow Facebook and need even more power or have you reached the top?

    The IT industry today is responsible for an estimated 2% of all emissions (Gartner) but may grow to be one of the biggest polluters by 2020 (McKinsey). Now cloud computing is the fastest growing sector of IT (IDC) and therefor poses the most important opportunity to turn the industry around. Facebook being the biggest and most talked about player in the field may have influenced Greenpeace to target it specifically instead of let's say Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter...but their heart is in the right place. Now is the time to act before we get 5 or 20 "Facebook's".

    I applaud your goal of having a low PUE but considering the power source I doubt that was an environmental decision over an economical one. Overall almost all new data centers have a PUE below 1.5 so your numbers are outdated.

    However you are partly right about your options in energy, they aren't great in the US yet. But being Facebook you certainly have the resources to innovate (e.g. your own extra power from solar/wind/batteries) and you could well have chosen another location with a better footprint e.g. Iceland, Scotland, Norway or even Idaho! (

    Finally I'm interested in your offsetting strategy that you mentioned. Have you announced a massive offsetting plan for making up for the overall emissions of your infrastructure? I'm realistic enough to know you won't be scrapping your data centers in the near future so that might give some people a little ease of mind, after all it's your users driving your need for so much energy.

    Eirikur Hrafnsson
    CEO Greenqloud
  • Many different approaches to a common problem

    Nice article Heather, and nice response Barry and Eirikur. As Eirikur knows (since I interviewed him) we are doing some research into the energy efficiency and carbon consequences of cloud computing. Clearly energy source, server power consumption, PUE, and utilization all have a significant impact on carbon gas emissions. We are in the process of quantifying these different approaches and would be happy to share with you our conclusions when they are complete.<br><br>Best regards,<br><br>Bruce Daley<br>Pike Research