Apple, Facebook and Google continue to lead efforts to build an Internet that is renewably powered, but uncooperative electric companies and rapid energy demand growth for the Internet places those ambitions under threat, according to a new report that Greenpeace released, Clicking Clean: A Guide to Building the Green Internet.
Greenpeace’s report details the immense power that technology companies have either to drive a renewable energy revolution, or to chain the new digital economy to old, polluting sources of power. The stakes are high: if the Internet were a country, its electricity demand would currently rank sixth.
Continued resistance to renewable investments from coal-heavy monopoly utilities in data center hot spots such as Virginia, North Carolina and Taiwan is causing the rapid growth in the digital world to increase the demand for dirty energy.
Greenpeace found that tech companies are increasingly turning to the smart choice of renewable energy to power the Internet, but they’re hitting a wall of stubborn monopoly power companies that refuse to switch to 21st century sources of energy.
Internet companies need to work together to get cleaner energy from their electric utilities, appealing to policymakers for changes in some cases. This past year saw the biggest Internet companies work together with activists in the fight for net neutrality to successfully overcome the monopolies of AT&T and Comcast, who wanted to create an Internet “slow lane.” Internet companies need to work together again to push utilities and policymakers to provide them with 100 percent renewable energy, and avoid the creation of an Internet “dirty lane.”
Greenpeace’s report also highlights the continued lack of transparency by Amazon.com, whose cloud computing subsidiary Amazon Web Services (AWS) hosts much of the Internet in its data centers. AWS has taken some significant steps over the last year, including committing to power its operations with 100 percent renewable energy, but the lack of basic transparency about its energy use is a growing concern for its customers.
Although AWS did announce plans to purchase more than 100 megawatts (MW) of wind energy this past year, Greenpeace discovered that AWS continues to rapidly expand in Virginia. Based on an analysis of permit applications by Amazon subsidiary Vadata, AWS made investments in new data center capacity in 2014 that would increase its energy demand by 200 MW in that state, where the utility Dominion powers the grid with only 2 percent renewable energy. That 200 MW of new electricity demand from Amazon in Virginia would be equivalent to adding 160,000 average U.S. homes to the Virginia grid.
The report found that Apple continues to be the most aggressive in powering its data center operations with renewable energy. Despite continued rapid growth, Apple appears to have kept pace with its supply of renewable energy, maintaining its claim of a 100 percent renewably powered cloud for another year, followed by Yahoo, Facebook and Google with 73 percent, 49 percent and 46 percent clean energy respectively.
Streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube are driving much the growth in the Internet’s energy demand. Video streaming is estimated to account for more than 60 percent of consumer internet traffic today, and is expected to grow to 76 percent by 2018.
Greenpeace is calling on all major Internet companies to:
- Make a long-term commitment to become 100 percent renewably powered.
- Commit to transparency on IT performance and consumption of resources, including the sources of electricity, to enable customers, investors and stakeholders to measure progress toward that goal.
- Develop a strategy for increasing their supply of renewable energy, through a mixture of procurement, investment and corporate advocacy to both electricity suppliers and government decision-makers.
Go to clickclean.org to learn more, find out whether your favorite Internet brands are going green, and join the movement of people asking for a green Internet.
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— Greenpeace USA (@greenpeaceusa) May 12, 2015