Two days ago, Facebook gave in to the sustained 20 month “Unfriend Coal” campaign by Greenpeace and announced changes to its data center site selection policy.
“Facebook looks forward to a day when our primary energy sources are clean and renewable, and we are working with Greenpeace and others to help bring that day closer,” says Marcy Scott Lynn of Facebook’s sustainability program. “As an important step, our datacenter siting policy now states a preference for access to clean and renewable energy.”
Facebook also plans to engage in dialogue with utility providers about the sources of energy that power their data centers.
Greenpeace senior IT analyst Casey Harrell adds that Facebook’s policy change now puts pressure on other companies with similarly large data centers, such as Apple, IBM, Microsoft, and Twitter.
This is no small matter, because the energy used to power data that deliver online services is significant, totaling more than 2% of US electricity demand, and is projected to grow 12% or more per year.
Greenpeace came out with a report (How dirty is your data?) earlier this year that highlights the need for greater transparency from global IT brands on the energy and carbon footprint of their Internet infrastructure.
Energy problems also prompted another Bay Area tech giant to move its data center out of California. When Cisco decided it had to move its San Jose data center, they considered more than 140 locations nationwide. The winner was Allen, Texas, where availability and the low cost of power was one of the deciding factors.
Tony Fazackarley, IT project manager in charge of the Cisco data center in Allen, told sbnonline.com that, “The cost and availability of power was also a factor in both the move out of California and the choice of Allen. San Jose constantly has rolling brownouts, and the cost of power is very high.”
Cisco’s Allen data center is an LEED Gold certified green building. The USGBC is working to offer data center-specific LEED specifications. Fazackarley says that once those specifications are available, the Cisco data center will upgrade to an LEED Platinum certification.
Many power companies offer site selection help for companies looking to relocate data centers. Duke Energy’s geographic information system can identify properties ideal for data centers in the Carolinas, Greater Cincinnati and Indiana.
The system identifies available buildings or land near reliable energy sources and away from disturbances that can interrupt data center operations, such as airports, railroads, hurricane paths, tornado activity and other areas susceptible to natural disasters.
Note that the Greenpeace Unfriend Coal campaign was mainly about protesting Facebook’s decision last year to invest $450 million for a new 300,000 sq. ft. data center in Forest City, North Carolina. The data center would rely primarily on coal power produced by Duke Energy.
According to the power company’s own environmental performance metrics data, 62.6% of their power comes from fossil fuel sources, with 55.8% from coal and 6.8% from natural gas/oil.
Facebook is now looking at Luleå, Sweden for a European data center, where it can get renewable hydro-power and free cooling from the frigid climate. If the Bay Area and East Coast start losing more data centers in Cisco and Facebook’s wake, then power companies may be forced to speed up their own “environmental performance.”