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Apple battles Greenpeace over "dirty" iPhone server farms


APPLE is battling claims by Greenpeace that it is the "dirtiest" of the technology giants for the second year in a row because of the way it powers its vast data centres, which deliver an array of services to iPhone and iPad owners.

The environmental campaign group said in its annual report on internet firms that Apple relied on coal power for services such as iCloud and the voice-controlled “personal assistant", Siri, more than its rivals.

“Apple right now is falling behind companies like Google and Facebook, who are taking a leadership role on this issue,” said Greenpeace spokesman Dave Pomerantz.

“It’s a shame that a company that built its reputation on thinking differently is now behind the curve.”

But Apple hit back before the report was published on Tuesday, disputing Greenpeace’s figures and highlighting the green credentials of its enormous billion-dollar data centre in Maiden, North Carolina, and a second it plans to build in Oregon.

Greenpeace claimed that the North Carolina facility, which opened last year to support the launch of iCloud, Apple’s suite of online backup services, would require up to 100MW in power and that renewable energy would meet for only 10 per cent of demand.

Apple responded that the data centre would in fact consume a peak of only 20MW, of which 60 per cent would come from renewable sources such as a 171-acre solar array it is building nearby.

“Our data centre in North Carolina will draw about 20 megawatts at full capacity, and we are on track to supply more than 60 per cent of that power on-site from renewable sources including a solar farm and fuel cell installation which will each be the largest of their kind in the country,” an Apple spokesman said.

“We believe this industry-leading project will make Maiden the greenest data centre ever built, and it will be joined next year by our new facility in Oregon running on 100 per cent renewable energy."

As well as its power consumption, Greenpeace has targeted Apple in recent years on its use of toxic chemicals such as flame retardants in its gadgets. The group said it did not believe Apple’s claims about the North Carolina data centre.

“Apple has the highest percentage of coal power and has been highly reluctant to disclose anything about their data centre operations,” said Mr Pomerantz.

“It’s great that Apple is finally sharing some information, but given the size and cost of that facility it’s highly unlikely that it will ultimately consume only 20MW.”

Greenpeace’s report rated internet firms in four categories based on their transparency round energy consumption, the location of their infrastructure, their efficiency and their use of renewables. Apple came out among the worst performers in every category, especially for its choice to build in North Carolina and Oregon, where the regional electricity grids are heavily reliant on coal compared to other states.

Amazon, which as well as running its own vast online retail empire rents space in its global network of server farms to other companies such as Netflix and Dropbox, also received a poor report, as did Twitter, which said it was working to improve its environmental credentials.

“The Greenpeace report raises important considerations around energy efficiency,” a spokesman said.

“We continue to strive for greater energy efficiency as we build out our infrastructure, and we look forward to sharing more on our efforts in this space in the coming months.”

Google, which has invested heavily in renewable energy, was praised by Greenpeace, as was Facebook. Since the last report it has committed to build a 100 per cent hydroelectric data centre in Sweden.