Back in the day when I was in the nuclear Navy, Greenpeace was not so infrequently pulling stunts like running their zodiacs up on the top of submarine hulls to make their unfounded statements of radiation releases to the environment. Since 9/11, you can bet they stopped this practice. Even back in the early 1990s the hatch was guarded by a burly guy sporting a short barrel shotgun with the largest shell chamber I’ve ever seen. Stopping power. The fact is, the US Navy runs the cleanest nuclear plants in the world with thousands of operating reactor YEARS and not a single significant release of radiation to the environment – including the couple submarines that were lost at sea.
I thought maybe Greenpeace had gone broke and out of business, but they are still hanging on or they emerged from bankruptcy. My most recent spotting was their protesting large data centers being built by and running on “cheap” coal-derived electricity. They are also complaining about the use of cloud computing, which is less expensive due to economies of scale, but these humongous data centers are purportedly located to burn cheap, dirty energy.
One specific data center mentioned in the above article, the first one actually, is Facebook’s new data center being built in Oregon, Prineville to be exact.
Before I rant and complain about things I generally make sure I have the facts straight. Greenpeace not only has their facts wrong on this one, they’re not just a little wrong; they’re 180 degrees wrong. These gigantic data centers are being located in the Pacific Northwest to have access to cheap HYDRO power, which of course has no emissions.
This is Bonneville Power Administration territory. I was thinking BPA gets at least 50% of their power from hydro. According to BPA’s annual report it’s 82%! All you have to do is tune into this site to see there is a sea of hydro plants, a few natural gas plants, a few biomass, and they are adding wind power like crazy. Believe me when I tell you, if there is one region on the planet that will avoid building coal plants at almost any price, it’s BPA’s territory.
Greenpeace has a credibility deficit similar to federal fiscal deficit. If you’re going to hiss and moan about something, at least have iffy facts to back it up. This is completely bogus.
But let’s take the next steps. I’m no IT expert, but as the articles note, massive data centers for websites and cloud computing are built for economies of scale. As with just about anything, economies of scale means tremendous opportunity for greater energy efficiency. It means fewer servers more fully loaded, which translates to much lower server power and also much lower cooling cost. It means massive facilities where it is possible to put in huge efficient chillers that literally use 1/3 the power of cheap and crappy packaged air conditioning units ubiquitous among “mom and pop” data centers.
What would Greenpeace have these data centers juice up with? If a data center needs anything from a power provider, its reliability. I attended a BPA conference about a year ago and one presentation was about the challenge of keeping the lights on with wind power that bounces all over. In one stretch I recall, they had zero MW from wind for a stretch of 14 straight days. No place on earth has sunshine around the clock. Do people use Facebook after dark? My guess is, yes. If there is one place in the country that has a beautiful mix of renewable energy it is the northwest where they have hydro that it seems they can ramp power up and down in no time, and store hydro energy while the wind is blowing. It seems to me that Greenpeace is bashing the best place on the planet to locate data centers.
I can think of some questionable complaints regarding the greenness of some of the tech companies cited: Google, Apple, Amazon, et al, but no sense in giving Greenpeace something remotely legitimate to protest.
BTW, you may be interested Bonneville’s video for safety with trees and high lines. It’s on their news page.
written by Jeffrey L. Ihnen, P.E., LEED AP