Apple has been claiming, to great public acclaim, that it uses 100% renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind for many of its power needs, including its data centers.
From Apple’s website:
Since 2012, all our data centers have been powered by 100 percent renewable energy sources. That means no matter how much data they handle, there is a zero greenhouse gas impact on the environment from their energy use.
This is highly misleading.
Apple, like nearly every other international technology company in the world, gets the overwhelming percentage of its power from cheap, plentiful, reliable coal and almost none from expensive, unreliable solar and wind.
The whole truth
Like any other large tech company, Apple requires a lot of energy for its operations–and this energy needs to be cheap and reliable. But today’s politically correct sources of energy, above all solar and wind, are neither reliable nor affordable. To call them “renewables” is a misnomer, because “renewables” advocates generally refuse to support the only cost-effective “renewable” option, large-scale hydroelectric power: building a dam, they say, is not sufficiently “green.” Solar and wind should be called “unreliables” because the intermittent nature of sunlight and wind have made them useless as scalable, reliable sources of energy that can meaningfully substitute for hydro, nuclear, let alone fossil fuel power. These unreliables require subsidies and government mandates to exist.
So how can Apple claim to be between 87-100% renewable yet actually be a coal-powered company?
By committing two types of energy accounting sleight-of-hand:
- Paying off other companies and consumers to give Apple “green credits” for its coal electricity usage.
- Concealing that the vast majority of computer energy use comes from coal-powered manufacturing and the coal-powered Internet.
Apple pays off consumers and other companies to give it ‘green credits’ for its coal electricity usage
Like most households and industrial facilities, Apple data centers are connected to local electric grids. To objectively determine where Apple’s energy use comes from you just need to look at the percentage of different power sources on the grid—how much comes from coal, how much comes from nuclear, how much comes from gas, how much comes from solar.
There is no grid in the world where the percentage of renewables/unreliables is near 100%. Germany, famously a leader in solar and wind, generates less than 10% of its overall energy use from solar and wind—and pays 3-4 times American electricity prices for that luxury.
So, how does Apple get to its 100% number? As the company’s own report admits, Apple’s data centers do in fact consume the standard blend of coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydro power–with a small amount of solar and wind mixed in. But the company literally pays other energy users to pretend that they only use coal, gas, and nuclear power so that Apple can claim to use only renewable power.
Think of it this way. Imagine you and 9 other people are traveling on a yacht that has both sails and a diesel engine. For the 10% of the time that the wind was blowing perfectly in the right direction, the yacht would use the sails. For the other 90% of the time, the diesel engine would do the heavy lifting. Now imagine that, after the trip, you want to claim that you traveled the entire distance by sail, so you pay every other passenger $10 for the right to claim that you used their 10% sail time. You get to claim that you sailed 100% of time, while the other passengers have to say they used the “dirty” diesel engine for their entire trip. That’s basically what Apple is doing with their energy accounting sleight of hand.