Is Apple Really Green?

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Various reports issued in March 2013 explained Apple’s data centers as being 100% green and using renewable energy, but are these claims really true?

In 2011, Greenpeace reported that Apple had “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.”[1] This report got Apple’s attention and they decided to go green… or at least pretend so.

Apple’s largest data center in Maiden, North Carolina needs “so-called baseload power that can deliver power at all times of the day, as well as back-up reserves in the case of a grid outage… To achieve that, Apple has installed 10 megawatts of fuel cells, the largest non-utility generation plant. The fuel cells, from Bloom Energy, convert natural gas to electricity. Because Apple is purchasing biogas credits from another company, it can claim that the data is run from renewable sources.”[2]  Biogas is created by capturing the gas from animal waste or decomposing landfills.[3]

By Apple using fuel cells, transitively that means they are using natural gas. If not done correctly, extracting natural gas from the ground can not only be dangerous, but environmentally unhealthy. “Nearly all natural gas extraction today involves a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which dangerous chemicals are mixed with large quantities of water and sand and injected into wells at extremely high pressure. Fracking is a suspect in polluted drinking water in Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming, where residents have reported changes in water quality or quantity following fracturing operations.”[4]

For Apple’s California data center, the company powers the location “with nothing but renewable energy it’s buying through the wholesale market. Most of this is wind power.” However, Apple’s Maiden, North Carolina location differs. “Apple says it’s buying some of its energy there and then offsetting that by also purchasing renewable energy credits, which are sold by green-energy providers such as wind farms and solar arrays. In buying them, Apple is sponsoring the creation of renewable energy, without actually buying the power itself. This lets Apple buy electricity from Duke Energy — a power company that mostly uses coal and nuclear power — and simultaneously claim that it has ‘achieved 100 percent renewable energy,’ as it did on its website.”[5]

As Apple continues to grow and build more data centers, the main question that should be asked is, “How green will those sites be?” Apple has come a long way in their green efforts, but their digital data centers are still hurting the environment by the trickle down effects of their power choices. Choose print and avoid an imposter claiming to be completely Green.

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