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Sorry Al Gore, Apple still uses coal power

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Michael Bastasch Energy Editor

Despite claims made by former Vice President and Apple board member Al Gore, the company’s data facilities are not powered by 100 percent green energy, but instead still rely heavily on coal power, natural gas and even nuclear power.

Both Apple and Al Gore argue that the company’s data centers and even its headquarters run completely on green power. This is wishful thinking, according to Energy Facts Weekly, and could only be true if one asked a “regulator or PR spin-meister. Based on the physics of energy, it can’t be so.”

Apple’s 100 percent renewable power figure relies on buying green energy credits and opting into green energy programs with utilities, but credits and green energy allocation are simply “regulatory” allocations and have little to do with the power the company is actually using.

“You can buy carbon credits from planting trees in Jakarta but when you fly, the aircraft still burns oil,” EFW says. “You can buy green credits from waste dumps, wind farms, and solar arrays, but most of the energy actually flowing into data centers and powering everything to do with iPhones, iPads and their increasingly dominant imitators, comes from burning natural gas or uranium, and coal.”

“We’ve already achieved 100 percent renewable energy at all of our data centers, at our facilities in Austin, Elk Grove, Cork, and Munich, and at our Infinite Loop campus in Cupertino,” Apple says on its website.

“At Apple, for example, 100 percent of its server farms and headquarters are on renewables, and they’re on the way to 100 percent for the company,” Gore said in a controversial Washington Post interview.

EFW argues that even if Apple’s facilities were exclusively powered by green energy, this would be negligible since the company says that only 2 percent of its carbon footprint comes from its data facilities. Most of its carbon footprint comes from manufacturing and product use.

On its website, Apple touts its data center in Maiden, North Carolina that has “an annual production capacity of 42 million kWh of clean, low-carbon, renewable energy.”

EFW points out that while power demand from the data center is non-stop, solar power is sporadic, meaning it won’t be able to reliably deliver power throughout the day. Solar power acts as a supplement to the local grid, and the main source of power in North Carolina is coal and nuclear.

“Apple supplements its Maiden, N.C. operation with 10 MWs of Bloom fuel cells… But since natural gas is non-renewable, Apple purchases biogas credits,” EFW notes. “For regulators and PR, those purchases make fuel cells greener, but in the realities of energy delivered, the fuel cells burn natural gas not credits.”

Similarly, at Apple’s Oregon and California data centers where the company has opted into a program to get power from local green energy sources like wind. However, even this does not mean the facilities actually get power produced from renewables.

“This is a regulatory and financial ‘designation,’ not a physical transaction unless an utterly independent dedicated power line and system were built. The physical energy delivered necessarily uses what is on the local grid,” EFW concludes.

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