100: Apple, Google, All Renewable, All the Time

April 11, 2018


Can we get back to “Don’t be Evil”?

Fast Company:

You have to see Apple’s Reno, Nevada, data center from the inside to truly understand how huge it is. It’s made up of five long white buildings sitting side by side on a dry scrubby landscape just off I-80, and the corridor that connects them through the middle is a quarter-mile long. On either side are big, dark rooms–more than 50 of them–filled with more than 200,000 identical servers, tiny lights winking in the dark from their front panels. This is where Siri lives. And iCloud. And Apple Music. And Apple Pay.

Powering all these machines, and keeping them cool, takes a lot of power–constant, uninterrupted, redundant power. At the Reno data center, that means 100% green power from three different Apple solar farms.

Now Apple says it’s finished getting the rest of its facilities running on 100% green power–from its new Apple Park headquarters, which has one of the largest solar roofs on the planet, to its distribution centers and retail stores around the world. Though the 100% figure covers only Apple’s own operations–not those of of the suppliers and contract manufacturers which do much of the work of bringing its ideas to life–it’s also convinced 23 companies in its supply chain to sign a pledge to get to 100% renewable energy for the portion of their business relating to Apple products.

The overarching goal of Apple going 100% green is, of course, is to reduce harmful emissions from dirty fuels. The company says it’s reduced its greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) by 58% since 2011, preventing 2.2 million metric tons of CO2e from entering the atmosphere. But Apple’s own progress as measured by the numbers isn’t the only point. In places where it has facilities, the company has often been a catalyst, working with local utilities and regulators to build new solar or wind farms that pump new green power onto the public grid. Jackson told me Apple especially likes to do this in markets where the majority of the existing energy comes from ecologically unfriendly sources like coal or oil. “It’s an approach that’s really important because you’re growing the clean energy market around you,” she says.

Former Vice President Al Gore, the author of An Inconvenient Truth and a member of Apple’s board since 2003, believes the company is sending a message that ecological responsibility can be good business. “It is proving the business case that well-managed companies can reduce the greenhouse gases that are causing the climate crisis while simultaneously reducing their energy costs,” he said in a statement to Fast Company. “Its efforts are transforming the way the tech sector uses power, both domestically and around the world.”

Apple isn’t the only tech company moving quickly on green initiatives. And because Google, Facebook, and Amazon’s businesses are more dependent on internet services than Apple’s, they buy far more energy than Apple does. Google was one of the first corporate movers on renewables; it says that it’s the world’s largest purchaser of renewable energy and purchased enough RECs in 2017 to cover all its operations. Facebook says it exceeded its goal of powering its data centers with 25% renewable energy and now is working toward 50% by the end of 2018. Amazon Web Services is working toward 100% green energy for its data centers, announcing it had passed the 40% mark in 2016.

While some state and local governments, corporations, and even solar companies have abused RECs to game the system, it’s the big tech companies that have been best-behaved, says Kevin Jones, director of the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School.

“Companies like Apple and Google are really setting the gold standard for the way governments and corporate entities should execute on their renewable goals,” he argues. “They are moving forward on this by signing initial power purchase agreements and correctly keeping the bundled RECs.” The less conscientious alternative is to sell off the RECs and use the proceeds to offset the cost of the green power.


Internet and technology giant Google announced last week that it had successfully sourced over 100% of its electricity needs from renewable energy sources in 2017, meeting a goal the company set itself in December of 2016.

Back at the end of 2016, Google’s Senior Vice President for Technical Infrastructure, Urs Hölzle, announced that the company was planning to source 100% of the electricity needed to run its global operations from renewable energy sources. Specifically, Hölzle promised that Google would not only buy “enough wind and solar electricity annually to account for every unit of electricity our operations consume, globally,” but the company also intended to create “new energy from renewable energy sources,” meaning that it will “only buy from projects that are funded by our purchases.”

At the time, Google was the leading corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the US, Europe, and Mexico, and at the time had commitments of 2.6 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar energy.

Fast forward to the beginning of April, and Urs Hölzle again took to Google’s The Keywordblog to announce that the company had successfully sourced 100% of its electricity needs from renewable energy sources in 2017 through Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). Hölzle explained that, “Over the course of 2017, across the globe, for every kilowatt hour of electricity we consumed, we purchased a kilowatt hour of renewable energy from a wind or solar farm that was built specifically for Google.”

“This makes us the first public Cloud, and company of our size, to have achieved this feat,” Hölzle claimed.

Google also maintains its position as the leading corporate purchaser of renewable energy, with 3 GW worth in 2017. Further, Google’s renewable energy contracts have resulted in over $3 billion in new capital investment around the world.



4 Responses to “100: Apple, Google, All Renewable, All the Time”

  1. Recently saw a news item about how Fusion research is going through a “Renaissance.”

    Even if it is we are still at least 20 years from the first power station by which time no one will want it. Renewables and drid scale storage will have rendered it a white elephant

    Even for Moon and Mars colonies it would not be needed. The only real application would be for far solar system manned exploration …

    • Sir Charles Says:

      “we are still at least 20 years from the first power station” I’ve been hearing that for the last 40+ years. I think nobody realises that the driver for fusion in the sun is the massive power of gravity there. We don’t have that here on earth. We should concentrate on renewable power that’s already available and working: solar, wind, biogas and all kinds of hydro. Nuclear fusion for general power generation is still science fiction.

  2. redskylite Says:

    The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts – Aristotle

    After reading this achievement by Apple, I read Apple’s weighty statement on Ethics and code of conduct, as displayed on the WWW. After being completely suckered/disillusioned by Shell’s glorious “ethic” statement it seems that just maybe “Apple” do really mean it. There should be some-body who brings companies to account when they have obviously breached their sparkling statements, after all dreaming up progressive statements is easy – adhering to them is a different kettle of fish altogether.

    extract of Code of Conduct – “Apple is committed to the highest standards of social and environmental
    responsibility and ethical conduct. Apple’s suppliers are required to provide safe
    working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, act fairly and ethically,
    and use environmentally responsible practices wherever they make products or
    perform services for Apple.”

    Another company who seems to be trying:

    Bentley Motors to install UK’s largest solar car port
    The 2.7 MW installation will be located at the luxury car maker’s factory headquarters in Crewe, England, and will meet 24% of the site’s electrical energy requirements.


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