by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
"Since 2012," the Apple web site boasts, "all our data centers have been powered by 100 percent renewable energy sources."
There would seem to be no wiggle room in that claim. Whereas "97 percent effective" implies "3 percent completely bloody ineffective," 100 percent renewable energy certainly seems to mean zero percent traditional energy. Apple gives no hint of any other interpretation, as it continues:
That means no matter how much data they handle, there is a zero greenhouse gas impact on the environment from their energy use. These data centers use renewable energy sources like solar, wind, biogas fuel cells, micro-hydro power, and geothermal power from onsite and locally obtained resources. On any given day, our data centers will use renewable energy to serve tens of billions of messages, more than a billion photos, and tens of millions of FaceTime video calls. They also run services like Siri, the iTunes Store, the App Store, and Maps. So every time a song is downloaded from iTunes, an app is installed from the Mac App Store, or a book is downloaded from iBooks, the energy Apple uses is provided by nature."
Economist Travis Fisher for the Institute for Energy Research has shown, however, that "100 percent renewable energy" claims are myths. They are simply untrue.
As Fisher told Carolina Journal,
Many companies such as Apple and Google claim that they get their electricity from 100 percent renewable sources. At best, this claim is misleading and deceptive. We cannot find a single instance of a large company actually going "100 percent renewable." The reality is that as long as these companies are connected to the electric grid, they still get the vast majority of their electricity from conventional sources such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear power, and are therefore not 100 percent renewable.
Drilling down on the "100 percent renewable energy" myth
Don Carrington’s recent reports in Carolina Journal have drilled down on "100 percent renewable" claims and shown how the facilities are run nigh on exclusively on traditional power sources:
California-based Apple promotes its 500,000-square-foot data center in Maiden, N.C., by saying it runs "100 percent" on renewable energy even though the facility continues to get all of its electricity from Duke Energy, a public utility that primarily generates electricity using coal, nuclear power, and natural gas.
But an Austria-based researcher who is familiar with the project called Apple’s claim "a boldfaced lie" — a sentiment echoed by state House Majority Leader Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, who chairs the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy. And a former economist with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission called the claim "misleading."
Apple bases its claim on the concept that it "offsets" power purchased from Duke by generating power from renewable sources, even though Apple does not make it clear that the energy powering the Maiden facility comes from Duke Energy’s traditional mix of fuels. …
It’s not just Apple’s facility. Consider Amazon’s:
When Amazon Web Services, a division of online retailer Amazon, announced in July its involvement in North Carolina’s first major wind farm, the company stated the power would be used for its data centers in Northern Virginia, but the centers will continue to purchase electricity entirely from Dominion Virginia Power, the public utility that currently supplies the Amazon data centers.
While AWS has agreed to buy all the power from the 208-megawatt wind farm being built and operated in Pasquotank and Perquimans counties by Iberdrola Renewables, the power will be connected to the grid locally and cannot be plugged into the data centers, which are 200 miles away.
The Federal Trade Commission warns against misrepresenting use of renewable energy in its "Green Guides" (last revised in 2012):
The guides include a separate section for the use of renewable energy claims. According to the guides, "It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product or package is made with renewable energy or that a service uses renewable energy. A marketer should not make unqualified renewable energy claims, directly or by implication, if fossil fuel, or electricity derived from fossil fuel, is used to power any part of the advertised service, unless the marketer has matched such non-renewable energy use with renewable energy certificates."
If the facilities were truly powered exclusively "by nature," they’d have a rather interesting performance dynamic. They would suffer from cartoonishly herky-jerky spasms of brownouts. Facilities would power up and down and even out, unpredictably, as sun and wind varied.
They would be completely at the mercy of nondispatchable resources. So it’s easy to understand why they’re opting for reliable, dispatchable traditional energy … especially if they can use the offsets hocus-pocus to say they’re not, "100 percent."
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