The new Facebook data center
Facebook, just like any other commercial business, is a for-profit enterprise. The company makes decisions based on many factors, including the amount of profit it will obtain from a certain venture. Recently it was announced that Facebook has decided to build a new data center in Prineville, Oregon at a cost of $188 million. The data center will stand on an area of 13,600 square meters and has been designed to be energy-efficient. But one facet of the data center's design that caught the attention of Greenpeace is the fact that the data center will receive its power from Duke Energy, a local utility that uses coal to generate the majority of its power.
Duke Energy has eight coal-fired power plants in the Carolinas. According to an article on Mediapost, Duke Energy “generates about 54.5% of its power from coal, 27% from nuclear, 12% from wind and hydro, and 6.5% from natural gas.”
According to a Facebook representative, "Facebook's commitment is, regardless of generation source, to use electricity as wisely and as efficiently as possible.”
Greenpeace vs Facebook
In mid-February, advocacy groups including Change.org as well as Greenpeace confronted Facbebook for not using renewable energy to power its newly planned data center. Greenpeace has launched a campaign called "Unfriend Coal", a campaign that calls on the world's most successful social networking site to free its energy-intensive business from coal power. The Unfriend Coal campaign has gained a lot of popularity and Greenpeace's Facebook group said, "We want Facebook to use 100% renewable energy”. The Unfriend Coal group on Facebook currently has over 103,000 members.
Greenpeace released a video about the situation. The Greenpeace video about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook's coal controversy is quite funny and it should be noted that Greenpeace does an excellent job in the video of simplifying the controversy. It depicts Mark Zuckerberg as a lonely student at Harvard University looking for friends, and now that he has a lot of them, he has chosen coal over renewables. The video is very descriptive and should not be missed.
Greenpeace and Change.org have done more than just call out Facebook for not using renewable energy. The complaints from these groups take it a step further and discuss the issue of Facebook's use of coal as the main energy source in the new data center. Now we all know that Facebook has the means to design a data center that is energy efficient — no one is disputing that. But the fact that Facebook has chosen “coal” as the energy source has raised a lot of eyebrows —from many groups and individuals worldwide.
Coal-fired power plants
Aging coal-fired power plants take approximately 24,000 lives per year of which 2,800 can be attributed to lung cancer — and nearly all of those deaths could be prevented if the United States government took a stronger stand and adopted stricter rules, according to a study that was released. Commissioned by several environmental groups and undertaken by a consultant used by the Environmental Protection Agency, the study released information that 22,000 of those deaths are preventable with currently available technology.
Previous U.S. presidential administrations have been criticized by the report's authors for trying to change existing clean air laws, which the report said would result in nearly 4,000 more annual deaths from asthma, heart attacks and other ailments which are also linked to the emissions from coal plants. “The Bush air pollution plan represents a step backward from simply enforcing current law,” said Angela Ledford, director of “Clear the Air”, a coalition that includes the notable environmental groups such as National Environmental Trust, the Public Interest Research Group and the Clean Air Task Force.
The Facebook Vice President of Technical Operations, Jonathan Heiliger up, stated "We thought, the problem of coal is a minor issue in the grand scheme of energy efficiency. Rather than fuss about what energy source you choose, we better pay more attention to its impact on the environment , how it reduces carbon emissions, and how it can cut energy consumption."
Open Compute Project
Facebook recently disclosed to the open source community information about their data server technology. Through the Open Compute Project, Facebook has released information about their server technology which, according to Facebook, will increase efficiencies up to 38 percent and will save on the cost of energy up to 24 percent at the new data center.
Keep the focus on Facebook
Facebook has claimed that sourcing clean energy is not always as straightforward as it appears and has even claimed that Greenpeace's record is not so clean, citing a report last year which found the campaign group's data center using a mix of “dirty energy”. The plain truth may be a little painful when you weigh the facts, but Facebook's response of accusing Greenpeace of using “dirty energy” is not enough. Many groups are calling on Facebook to take the high-ground, stop the finger pointing and change the plans of their new data center so as to use renewable energy, instead of coal-fired energy. According to these groups, the health of our environment depends on it – and we should all expect that the social media giant, Facebook, lead by example.