Energy | Ecotrope

Face off: Which Facebook data center is greener?

Ecotrope | Nov. 18, 2010 9:13 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:44 p.m.

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A Greenpeace campaign to get Facebook to stop using coal is drawing attention to the coal-fired component of the power serving the growing company's new data centers.

A Greenpeace campaign to get Facebook to stop using coal is drawing attention to the coal-fired component of the power serving the growing company's new data centers.

Facebook’s new data center planned for Forest City, N.C., might be greener than its Prineville data center in Oregon.

But it’s still not green enough for Greenpeace.

The environmental group has slammed Facebook for opting to use coal-fired power at its Prineville site, which is scheduled to be up and running next year. The group is pressuring the company to locate its data centers in places where it can use renewable energy sources. In Oregon, Facebook has defended its decision to use power from PacifiCorp, which has a slightly higher mix of coal-fired electricity than the national average, by saying the design of the center in Prineville will be so efficient that the energy savings will offset its use of coal.

Environmental Leader reports the coal-fired component of the two data centers’ power sources are nearly even, with the Prineville center drawing around 58 percent of its power from coal and the North Carolina site likely to draw around 55 percent of its power from coal:

“The new Facebook site in Forest City is served by Duke Energy, which has an energy mix similar to that in Prineville, reports Data Center Knowledge. In 2009, Duke Energy generated 54.7 percent of its power from coal, 27 percent from nuclear power plants, 12 percent from wind and hydro-electric power, and 6.6 percent from natural gas, according to the article. The utility expects its mix of renewables to improve when it adds additional wind power generation.”

When the news of the new data center came out last week, the New York Times reported about half the electricity in Forest City, N.C., comes from coal. About 39 percent of the power comes from nuclear power and 5 percent comes from natural gas. By comparison, the Prineville data center will be supplied by PacificCorp, which reports using coal-fired power for 58 percent of its electricity, with 20 percent coming from natural gas, 10 percent from hydro and 10 percent from other renewable sources.

Greenpeace is not happy that coal is still in the mix, and it’s bringing 600,000 Facebook users into the fight to make Facebook greener:

“Facebook has again chosen a location that will increase demand for dirty energy,” said Greenpeace energy campaigner Gary Cook in a blog post. “Good corporate citizenship involves more than setting up a webpage dedicated to green issues, or becoming members of green clubs, just as energy efficiency is only the first step to managing your environmental footprint.

“While Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook seem more sensitive to their environmental reputation, they appear to be making the same mistakes in North Carolina as they did in Oregon,” Cook added. “Facebook’s rapid growth continues drive new demand for dirty energy, with no apparent plan for how to address the concerns of 600,000 Facebook users who want Facebook to get off of coal.”

As Data Center Knowledge reported:

“Cook said Facebook missed an opportunity to follow the lead of Yahoo, which has built hydro-powered data centers in Quincy, Washington and Lockport, N.Y. that rely primarily on hydro-electric power.

Facebook says the North Carolina facility with be an energy-efficient data center, and employ many of the techniques used to conserve power at its Prineville site. The Orgeon facility will use evaporative cooling instead of a chiller system, continuing a trend towards chiller-less data centers and water conservation. The North Carolina site is in a warmer climate, which will reduce the scope of free cooling. But the facility will likely mirror Prineville’s practice of re-using excess heat expelled by servers to heat office space in the building, and foregoing traditional uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and power distribution units (PDUs) by adding a 12 volt battery to each server power supply.

Facebook has also been implementing energy efficiency measures at some of its leased data centers, reducing the volume of electricity used by these older facilities.

While it’s not using hydro power, the new Facebook facility may have a lower carbon impact than other data centers reliant on an energy mix featuring coal. The new site in Forest City, N.C. is about 10 miles from Duke Energy’s Cliffside Steam Station, which is readying Unit 6, a so-called “clean coal” facility fetauring lower emissions than traditional coal plants.”

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