Apple, Google, Facebook: Whose Data Centers Are the Dirtiest?

Apple’s iCloud is at the vanguard of personal computing. It also relies on a lot of dirty energy.

Climate DeskYou’ve heard about the Foxconn factory in China where your iPad is assembled. But have you ever considered the energy required to store your emails, photos, and videos in the cloud? As worldwide demand for data storage skyrockets, so do the power needs of the servers where all our digital archives live. While some companies (like Facebook) have made great progress in ditching dirty fossil-fuel energy for cleaner renewables, a few internet giants lag far behind. Climate Desk visited Maiden, North Carolina, for a close-up view of what will soon be one of the world’s biggest data centers—owned by Apple and powered by the coal-heavy power behemoth Duke Energy.

UPDATE: A spokeswoman for Apple pushed back in a statement to Climate Desk after publication that the Maiden facility will be the “greenest data center ever built,” and released figures that dispute Greenpeace’s report. Greenpeace’s report estimates the facility will draw 100 megawatts of power. Apple says the facility will use 20 megawatts at full capacity, and is on track to supply more than 60 percent of that power on-site from renewable sources including a solar farm and fuel cell installation, “which will each be the largest of their kind in the country.” Suzanne Goldenberg from Climate Desk partner site The Guardian, quotes Greenpeace’s Gary Cook as remaining skeptical about Apple’s internal numbers: “I do feel that’s a bit of a lowball number. That would be a very empty building they are putting there in terms of power demand if it’s only 20MW. That seems disproportionally small,” he said.

Apple’s new data center is only one of many coal-fueled server farms across the country. The map below shows 52 of the largest, owned by companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Twitter. Mouse over a point on the map to see who owns the plant, and how reliant on coal it is, according to Greenpeace estimates. (Some data centers are clustered close together; zoom in on a particular area to see each one in more detail.)

See a full-screen version here.

The figures in the map are for individual data centers. To give you a better sense of the big picture, here’s an overview of how much of each company’s overall energy comes from coal, according to Greenpeace estimates:

1. Apple: 55.1 percent
2. HP: 49.7 percent
3. IBM: 49.5 percent
4. Oracle: 48.7 percent
5. Facebook: 39.4 percent
6. Microsoft 39.3 percent
7. Twitter: 35.6 percent
8. Amazon: 33.9 percent
9. Rackspace: 31.6 percent
10. Google: 28.7 percent
12. Dell: 20.1 percent

  • To see how other tech giants stack up against Apple, look through the Greenpeace report here.
  • To read about companies’ energy use, check out this table from Greenpeace’s report here.
  • Learn more about how Apple powers its facilities in its 2012 Facilities Report.
  • Learn more about Duke’s renewables development, emissions reductions, and more in its 2011 report.
  • Check out these sweet aerial photos of the iDataCenter from Climate Desk partner Wired.
More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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