What Powers Your Cloud?
A new Greenpeace report, Clicking Clean: Who is Winning the Race to Build a Green Internet?, finds that Apple, Google, Facebook and newcomer Switch are leading the charge to build a renewably powered internet. These companies are coupling transitions of their data centers to clean energy with strong advocacy for access to renewable options.
But while nearly 20 internet companies have now committed to 100 percent renewable energy, the reality is that much of the sector continues to grow rapidly in Asia and U.S. markets like Virginia, both of which have little to no renewable energy options.
"Thanks to the leadership and advocacy of companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Switch, we are seeing the tech industry make major strides toward powering the internet with clean energy," said Greenpeace Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook. "A growing number of companies now recognize the need to transition to renewables, but we must see greater urgency and transparency across the board. Amazon Web Services is a prime example of a company that talks up its renewable projects, but keeps customers in the dark on its energy performance while expanding into markets served by dirty energy like Virginia."
Despite some movement, the lack of transparency by some of the largest players in the sector remains a critical barrier, masking both their current size and whether the renewable deals they are claiming are actually changing the power mix in the markets they are expanding into. Much clearer reporting, like we now see from industry leaders Apple, Facebook and Switch, must be embraced by the massive cloud companies and colocation operators that most of the internet is powered by. While Amazon Web Services has revealed some detail on its energy demand for the first time, much greater transparency must be expected of it and others that are making decisions about how the internet is powered.
The report also evaluates emerging East Asian internet companies for the first time, finding that the region is well behind the U.S. market in renewable commitments due in part to fewer clean energy options from monopoly utilities. East Asian internet giants, including Tencent, Baidu and Alibaba, have not committed to 100 percent renewable energy and lack basic transparency around their energy performance. Increased advocacy efforts for key renewable policy changes are needed from East Asian internet companies as they look to expand globally.
"We must see East Asian internet companies exhibiting the will to commit to 100 percent renewable energy, particularly as they expand to markets around the world," said Greenpeace East Asia Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner Jude Lee. "Leading IT companies in the United States have already shown that the majority of the industry recognizes that clean power is both good for the environment and good for business. East Asian companies must step up to embrace that reality as well."
Netflix has one of the largest data footprints of the companies profiled in the report, accounting for one third of internet traffic in North America and contributing significantly to the worldwide data demand from video streaming. The company announced in 2015 that it intended to fully offset its carbon footprint, but a closer examination reveals it is likely turning to carbon offsets or unbundled renewable energy credits, which do little to increase renewable energy investment. Like Apple, Facebook and Google, Netflix is one of the biggest drivers of the online world and has a critical say in how it is powered. Like its peers, Netflix must embrace the responsibility to make sure its growth is powered by renewables, not fossil fuels.
This year's report scores the renewable efforts of nearly 70 websites and applications popular in the U.S., China and South Korea. For the third year in a row, Apple, Google and Facebook rank among the highest performing companies, while newcomer Switch takes the top spot. Along with Google, Apple continues to match its growth with the equivalent or greater supply of renewable energy. Switch scored the highest of all operators for its efforts to transition its data center fleet to renewables through both procurement and aggressive advocacy.
"Sustained and vocal advocacy by corporations that recognize the ecological and economic imperative of an aggressive transition to renewable sources of electricity has never been more important in the United States given the election of Donald Trump, who has promised to roll back climate policies and revive the use of coal," Cook concluded.
The energy footprint of the IT sector as a whole is currently estimated to consume 7 percent of global electricity, with an anticipated threefold increase in global internet traffic by 2020. Greenpeace has benchmarked the energy performance of leading IT companies since 2009. Facebook, Apple and Google were the first companies to make 100 percent renewable commitments five years ago. Companies evaluated in this report have signed more than 5GW in renewable deals globally since 2010.