Tech Giants Commit to Renewable Energy in Response to Greenpeace’s Clean Our Cloud Campaign

In response to the Clean Our Cloud campaign organized by Greenpeace, major technology companies Apple Inc. and Microsoft have announced their commitments to reducing their carbon footprints by switching to renewable energy. Greenpeace is already partnered with Facebook to transition that company’s data centers to rely on green energy, and with the Clean Our Cloud campaign, the environmental group wanted to show other companies – namely Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon – that it is possible to run data centers efficiently on renewable energy. In April, Greenpeace activists protested around the world at Apple stores and demanded that technology companies invest in clean energy and reduce their dependence on coal – and it seems that two of them have listened.

Earlier this month, Apple announced that it plans to power its North Carolina data center using 100 percent renewable energy by the end of this year. The LEED Platinum-certified center, located in Maiden, NC, will use solar power to generate 60 percent of its renewable energy onsite, totaling 124 million kilowatt-hours per year – enough energy to power more than 10,000 homes. In an effort to make the public aware of its environmentally friendly practices, Apple will register with the North Carolina Renewable Energy Tracking System, a program established by the North Carolina Utilities Commission to keep companies accountable for their commitments to renewable energy and to ensure that companies adhere to state renewable energy standards. “We want to ensure that our efforts to use renewable energy are transparent and that everyone can follow our progress,” Apple said in an official announcement of the new policy.

In addition to solar power, which will come from a solar array that Apple is building near the data center, the North Carolina facility will use hydrogen fuel cells as another form of clean energy. The company is collaborating with nonprofit North Carolina GreenPower to encourage and increase local production of clean energy and to support projects that increase the use of renewable energy.

Data centers power Internet servers and cloud-based storage systems that hold files including videos, data, and documents; due to the large number of Internet users, data centers use a tremendous amount of (mostly coal-fired) power. Rapidly growing, cloud computing is expected to create 1.1 million jobs in the United States and 14 million worldwide by 2015.

Almost 10 years ago, Apple’s Austin, Texas facility became the first of its data centers to operate entirely on renewable energy; now, facilities in Sacramento, Calif.; Cork, Ireland; and Munich, Germany also rely fully on clean energy. Apple plans to apply its renewable energy policies to two other centers: an under-construction data center in Prineville, Ore. and another in Newark, Calif. by early 2013.

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced on its official blog that it plans to become carbon neutral by July 1, 2012, which is the beginning of the 2013 fiscal year. The new rules will apply to all of its facilities in the United States, and to encourage its operations in more than 100 foreign countries to enforce similar standards, Microsoft will charge a carbon fee. The tech giant is currently the third-largest buyer of green energy in the United States, purchasing 1.1 billion kilowatt-hours of energy per year (equivalent to removing 150,000 vehicles from the road) and offsetting nearly half of its total energy consumption. Microsoft expects to save more than $1.5 million in energy costs during fiscal year 2013.

Do you think that Microsoft and Apple are making a strong enough commitment to renewable energy, or should they be doing more? Greenpeace believes that Apple’s commitment is a good start, but would like to see Apple transform all of its data centers to use 100 percent renewable energy – if you agree, read Greenpeace’s response to Apple’s statement and join Greenpeace in its campaign.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/howardlake/4811259483

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