TODAY’S STUDY: FOR A GREEN APPLE
A Clean Energy Road Map for Apple; How Apple Can Meet its Coal-free Goal
July 2012 (Greenpeace)
Apple has recently made several important announcements about the electricity behind its “iCloud”, significantly increasing its ambition for the amount of clean energy powering its data centres by saying they would be “100% Renewable,” including a doubling of the amount of solar power attached to its North Carolina facility. Apple’s chief financial officer, Peter Oppenheimer, said that Apple will set a new bar for the sector by making all three of Apple’s current data centres “coal free” by 2013.
This new ambition to be “coal free” is welcome news for the 125 million current iCloud users2, and represents a significant improvement in Apple’s energy choices. However, many details and questions remain about how Apple will achieve its 100% renewable goal from the public dialogue Greenpeace International has had with the company. Two of Apple’s three current data centres operate in regions that are 50-60% coal powered, and will require significant new investment or a clear decision by Apple to buy electricity from cleaner sources in order to be considered coal free. Such changes for the electricity supply chain for Apple’s data centre in North Carolina in particular are not likely to occur overnight.
The following analysis updates our evaluation of Apple to account for its recent clean energy announcements, and outlines the additional steps Apple should take to fulfill its laudable ambition to set a new bar with a “coal-free” and 100% renewably-powered iCloud.
Greenpeace International is rescoring Apple now because of its recent ambitious and public commitments to clean energy. In a subsequent report in 2012, Greenpeace International will also re-evaluate Microsoft and Amazon in light of any action – or inaction – those companies have taken to clean up the energy sources powering their cloud services. Energy scores in the Company Scorecard have been updated from the April release of the “How Clean is Your Cloud?” report to reflect data from the latest 2012 EPA information on state energy mixes.3 We have not updated the letter grades or key sustainability criteria for companies other than Apple.
In summary, Apple’s customers should watch to see if Apple takes the following steps that would indicate if it is truly on the path to meet its ambitious goals. Apple should:
• Choose a renewable-powered local utility for its Oregon data centre, not buy renewable energy credits from coal-powered Pacific Power.
• Use renewable electricity from onsite generation to directly power its North Carolina facility, and use grid power solely for backup, rather than selling its renewable electricity to Duke Energy.
• Secure a sustainable source of biogas to directly power its fuel cells for North Carolina.
• Retire renewable energy credits from electricity generated onsite in North Carolina.
• Invest directly in new renewable energy generation in North Carolina rather than buying renewable credits to “green” Duke Energy’s dirty electricity.
• Demand Duke Energy eliminate its mountaintop coal removal operations from Apple’s electricity supply chain, and demand that Duke invest in new renewable energy generation capacity, not retrofitting and extending the lifetime of dirty coal plants.
• Adopt a data centre siting policy that prioritises access to renewable energy for any future iCloud data centres.
Ultimately, if Apple wants to get serious about its commitment to a coal-free iCloud, the most important thing it can do is to use its buying leverage with Duke Energy and other utilities to push for cleaner electricity options. Currently, Duke Energy’s investment plans call for continued reliance on coal and nuclear power, with less than 4% of the electricity it generates in North Carolina coming from renewable energy by 2030. Apple has the ability to bend that trajectory toward cleaner sources of power.
Just as Apple has been widely asked to actively engage with other aspects of its supply chain to push for fairer labour standards, Apple must do the same with its electricity supply chain. As a large and rapidly growing energy user, Apple cannot be a sustainability leader if it remains a passive recipient of the electricity it is provided from dirty utilities. To show true leadership, the company has to be willing to use its influence to change the electricity ecosystem outside the walls of its data centres as well…
Clean energy advocacy champion
Ultimately, if Apple is serious about its commitment to a coal-free iCloud, the most important thing the company can do is to use its buying leverage with Duke to push for cleaner energy options. Currently, Duke’s investment plans call for continued reliance on coal and nuclear power, with less than 4% of the electricity coming from renewable energy in North Carolina by 2030.24 If Duke made the right investments today, North Carolina could be on a pathway to be 100% renewable and coal-free by 2030.
Apple should start by explicitly asking Duke to cease burning coal from mountaintop removal mining, the most destructive form of coal mining for ecosystems and communities in Appalachia. Pressuring Duke to phase out mountaintop removal mining, decrease its dependence on coal, and significantly increase renewable electricity in North Carolina is the long-term solution for Apple to achieve its ambitious “coal free” goal at its Maiden data centre. That would be good not only for Apple, but for the citizens of North Carolina, and particularly for communities in North Carolina and Appalachia suffering from the impacts of coal mining and burning.
Growing a green iCloud over the long term
Apple has made important strides in its embrace of clean energy for the iCloud in recent weeks. To demonstrate it is committed in the long term to building a truly renewable iCloud, Apple needs to adopt a corporate policy that shows a commitment to renewable energy for the iCloud as it continues its surging growth. Two principle ways Apple could demonstrate such a commitment are to:
(1) Adopt a siting policy that expresses a preference to build data centres where the grid is already clean, as Facebook has done.25 A siting policy would be a clear indication of lasting renewable leadership and would send a clear signal to the marketplace that the cloud should be powered by renewable energy.
(2) Set a steadily increasing renewable energy goal – one that does not rely on the use of RECs – for Apple’s data centre infrastructure as it continues to grow. While RECs allow Apple to quickly pay for the right to claim its iCloud is renewable powered, the reality on the ground will continue to reflect that the iCloud is increasing demand for dirty energy, particularly in North Carolina where nearby plants are powered by mountaintop removal coal.
Greenpeace will continue to work with Apple and Apple’s customers until the company develops a commitment that all of its current and future data centres move toward clean energy, not coal. While Apple has made impressive recent strides in investing in on-site renewable energy, it still has a lot of work to do to make good on this commitment. If it does that, and develops a policy that promises the same for its future growth, Greenpeace – and, more importantly, Apple’s customers – will recognise the company for becoming a leader in the new clean energy economy.