Financial News

  • 24 July 2014, 18:06

Apple Looks To Renewables For Its Juice

Technology companies are competing with each other on a new front - renewable energy - and taking on traditional power suppliers.

All of Apple's data centres run on entirely clean energy. The centre in Maiden, North Carolina, is supplied by a 400,000-square-metre solar array built by the iPhone maker.

Lisa Jackson, Apple's vice president of environmental initiatives and the former head of the US Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), told Sky News why Apple had invested in the solar array.

"It's business and it's also the right thing to do. A data centre is really just about energy," she said.

"The energy to run the servers inside, the energy to cool the servers. For us, it's about knowing we have a stable and reliable source of electricity, at a stable price.

"More than the payoff on paper is the knowledge that we control this power supply."

The energy demands of the technology industry have soared over the past decade.

The Carbon Trust estimates that by 2020, the technology industry's global carbon footprint will have tripled from its 2002 level, to 1.4bn tonnes of CO2.

According to the EU, the ICT industry is responsible for 10% of all energy use in Europe - the equivalent of the airline industry, or an industrial nation like Germany.

Much of that rise has been driven by an increase in demand for data centres, according to Andie Stephens of the Carbon Trust.

He said: "The main growth (in energy consumption) is in data centres - they're growing at maybe 10% a year."

It's fairly dramatic - around two to 3% of global emissions.

He added: "There's concern that the sector is growing. But there's also the opportunity for it to reduce emissions elsewhere. A simple example is video-conferencing, which reduces the need to travel."

Every time you search for something on your phone or computer, or open up an app, that information travels through the internet, to a data centre.

Billions of iMessages and millions of FaceTime calls are processed every day in Apple's data centre in North Carolina.

And companies are racing to build private power supplies for their various data centres.

Google has invested more than 600m in clean energy, including in the Ivanpah solar thermal plant and the largest wind farm in the world, and says that 34% of its energy use is from green sources.

The search giant says it has saved around 600m to date by using renewables, which power 24% of its total operations.

Facebook also uses wind to power its data centres in Iowa.

Not every tech company is committed to clean energy though.

A recent Greenpeace report lambasted Amazon for its poor environmental record, giving it an F.

The field is competitive. Apple refuses to say how much it has invested in the North Carolina data centre, to keep its rivals in the dark.

Perhaps the biggest threat is to existing energy suppliers though.

Technology companies, which are driving a huge rise in energy consumption, are already looking elsewhere for their supplies.

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