Friday, May 22, 2015

Google and Facebook’s Nuclear-driven Data Centers

A Greenpeace initiative that’s actually kind of interesting is its drive to get large scale data centers – such as those run by Google, Facebook and Apple – to use more renewable energy to run them. They call it Clicking Clean.

Greenpeace operates in an area where the practical -  which, after all, is what electricity is – intersects with the idealistic, if one defines idealism fairly narrowly, i.e., as what Greenpeace favors.

That’s where data centers come in. There’s a cluster of them in North Carolina, which, in part, has to do with the state’s efforts to foster high-tech development. I’ve had a couple of friends migrate to the Research Triangle (Raleigh-Durham) to pursue their careers, so it’s having an impact on the east coast at least. But it likely also has something to do with plentiful electricity

But here’s the problem for Greenpeace.

Greenpeace says Duke’s Green Source Rider, proposed in 2013 at the urging of Google and Facebook as a way to sell green energy to customers willing to pay the additional cost, once seemed like a breakthrough.

However, the authors argue, “the design and price structure ... imposed by Duke have been such a barrier that thus far no companies have agreed to purchase renewable energy under the program.”

Duke intends to increase its renewable energy output to 4 percent from 2 percent in the next few years.

And that brings us to this:

He accuses Greenpeace of cherry-picking its statistics. He says the report emphasizes that Duke has just 2 percent of renewable energy in its system now and plans to have just 4 percent by 2029. But Wheeless says the report ignores Duke’s sizable hydro power capacity and the power produced by zero-carbon nuclear plants.

The “he” there is Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless. Nuclear and hydro together make up about 37 percent of electricity production in the state (nuclear alone is 32 percent), about the same as coal.

Greenpeace is not so much cherry-picking as paying attention to what interests them – and that’s not nuclear energy. The extent to which Facebook, Google, Duke or North Carolina care about this is up to them. But as far as we’re concerned, Google and Facebook made intelligent choices in putting some of their data centers in North Carolina (and Virginia, too, for that matter ) – where a lot of the baseload energy is not only clean but plentiful enough to manage my searches or see what my crazy uncle is up to. If I were in North Carolina, I’d consider my clicks plenty clean as is.

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