Facebook and Coal

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{{#badges: CoalSwarm}} It was announced in January 2010 that the popular social networking site Facebook would build its first data center in the eastern Oregon town of Prineville. The 147,000 square foot facility will cost approximately $200 million. It will be the first data center Facebook has built. The plant would provide jobs to the economically depressed town. However, critics claim that the plant's need for electricity will be substantial, pointing out that Prineville's utility company PacifiCorp generates the majority of its power by coal-firing.

"Facebook, by opening this center, is sending a signal: We're not quite done with coal yet," said Daniel Kessler of Greenpeace of Facebook's decision. "We understand that the data center is being built. They already have a power service agreement. This is really about where Facebook and the industry are going."[1]

A Facebook group titled "Get Facebook off Coal" has drawn over 8,000 thousands of members as of late February 2010. Another group by the name of "We want Facebook to use 100% renewable energy" has also accumulated over 12,000 members as of February 25, 2010. Campaigners that oppose Facebook's decision to build a plant hope that pressure from Facebook users could force the company to reconsider its decision to power the facility by burning coal.

"It is simply untrue to say that we chose coal as a source of power ... Every data center plugs into the grid offered by their utility or power provider" Facebook has responded. "In selecting Oregon, we chose a region that offers a uniquely dry and temperate climate.[2]

Facebook: Unfriend Coal

Greepeace put additional pressure on Facebook is September 2010 by releasing a video that targeted Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The cartoon video, voiced by what sounds like a computerized child, first attacked Zuckerberg for being a nerd, a la "The Social Network" trailer, before criticizing its choice of power for the Prineville, Ore. data center.

Facebook had the option to choose wind power, but "silly Mark Zuckerberg chose dirty old coal," according to the Greenpeace video.

"But Mark Zuckerberg can still change his mind, and I know which one I would choose, and so do all his friends," the video continued.

In September 2010, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg reacted to a question posed by a Facebook member named Evan to this issue by stating that "Some of our old data centers we rent use coal but most are already green. The newer ones we are building from scratch in Oregon use hydro power from dams. We're moving in the right direction here."[3]

Greenpeace said in February 2010 that about 83 percent of the utility's generation capabilities come from coal, geothermal, and natural gas resources. Facebook states that that number is actually 58 percent.[4]

In November 2010 Facebook launched a page on its social networking site titled, "Green on Facebook". The page outlines what the company is doing to be "environmentally friendly". Forbes.com noted that Facebook likely launched the campaign to counter the pressure from Greenpeace and others for its proposed Oregon data center that will use coal energy to power its servers.[5]

Greenpeace in March 2011 began airing an ad campaign in California which called for Facebook to "unfriend coal". The environmental group hoped the ad will reach many of the company's employees located in Silicon Valley.[6]

In April 2011, Facebook released a report detailing the specs for its computer data center to be built in eastern Oregon. In the publication, called the Open Compute Project, Facebook published everything from the server specification and rack design to the configuration of its power infrastructure and cooling systems. However, Greenpeace responded that while efficiency and transparency were important, that Facbeook ought to also look to a cleaner energy source and that efficiency alone was not enough.[7]

It was announced in April 2011 that Facebook would install a large solar array in Prineville, Oregon, making the company one of only a handful of data centers in the world to install on-site solar power generation. The solar array is reported to be able to generate about 100 kilowatts of energy, with a total expected production of 204,000 kilowatt hours a year. This amount is only a small fraction of the power required to run a major data center and will primarily be used to support office areas rather than server rooms. Facebook’s solar installation garnered praise from Greenpeace, which stated that this was an "encouraging" sign for the company.[8]

The plant is 333,400-square foot and has tens of thousands of server, employing 55 people, most of which are for security purposes.[9]

In December 2011 it was announced that Greenpeace was dropping its campaign against Facebook. The company and environmental organization announced that they will work together to encourage the use of renewable energy instead of coal. No demands by Greenpeace toward Facebook were reported in the announcement.[10]

IT and coal

According to the 2011 Greenpeace report, "How Dirty is Your Data?", data centres housing virtual information currently consume 1.5-2% of all global electricity, use that is growing at a rate of 12% a year.

Looking at some of the largest IT companies - Amazon.com (Amazon Web Services), Apple, Facebook, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo - the report found that over half of the companies rely on coal for between 50% and 80% of their energy needs. Specifically, the report rated the following "coal intensity" values for the company, based upon estimates of power demand for evaluated facilities:[11]

  • Amazon.com - 28.5%
  • Apple - 54.5%
  • Facebook - 53.2%
  • Google- 34.7%
  • HP - 49.4%
  • IBM - 51.6%
  • Microsoft - 34.1%
  • twitter - 42.5%
  • Yahoo - 18.3%

Resources

References

  1. Facebook takes heat over coal-fired power in its Prineville data center Mike Rogoway, The Oregonian, February 23, 2010
  2. Facebook gets slammed by environmentalists USA Today, February 22, 2010
  3. "A Facebook message from Mark Zuckerberg" Laura K, Greenpeace Blog, September 29, 2010.
  4. "Echols of West Memphis 3 talks about appeal, death row" Chloe Albanesius, PCMag.com, September 17, 2010.
  5. "Facebook ‘friends’ the green movement" Mother Nature Network, Forbes.com, November 10, 2010.
  6. "Greenpeace Continues to Target Facebook in its New "Unfriend Coal" Ad" Nicole Henderson, Web Host Industry Review, March 30, 2011.
  7. "Facebook publishes specs for efficient data centre" Information Age, April 8, 2011.
  8. "Greenpeace: Facebook’s Solar Use ‘Encouraging’" Rich Miller, Data Knowledge Center, April 18, 2011.
  9. "Inside Facebook’s Amazing Oregon Data Center" Harry McCracken, November 9, 2011.
  10. "Facebook, Greenpeace in Truce Over Data Centers" Associated Press, December 16, 2011.
  11. "How Clean Is Your Cloud?" Greenpeace, accessed May 2012

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