Social media prompts a clean energy shift

Sensemaking / Social media prompts a clean energy shift

Our virtual lives have massive energy demands, but a two-year Greenpeace campaign has prompted Facebook to ‘like’ renewable sources.

14 May 2012

Our virtual lives have massive energy demands, but a two-year Greenpeace campaign has prompted Facebook to ‘like’ renewable sources.

Facebook is making the switch to more renewable energy sources. The change comes after Greenpeace's 'Unfriend Coal' campaign, a two-year push to get the social media giant to use less electricity from fossil fuels. The campaign broke the world record for the most comments posted on a single Facebook page in 24 hours, with over 80,000 on 13 April 2011 – largely in protest against the company's 28MW coal-powered data centre, opened that month in Primeville, Oregan.

By the end of the year, Facebook had responded with plans for another data centre, three times the size – but with a difference. Situated by the Lule River in Sweden, this centre – due to open in 2014 – will run primarily on hydroelectric power, with diesel generator back-up. It will consume 120MW, about 2.8% of the total hydro-electric power generated in the region. The site, in the Arctic Circle, has another strategic advantage: the cold climate, which will minimise the need for energy to cool the servers.

In a joint statement with Greenpeace, Facebook also announced a new goal "to power all our operations with clean and renewable energy", including a specific commitment to work with its current utility providers to increase the proportion of clean energy in their mix. It gave no timeline for the switch – but has since hired Bill Weihl, who pioneered Google's investment in green energy [see 'Google invests in green energy'].

The energy demands of our virtual lives are massive. All those profiles, pictures and pokes have to be stored somewhere. According to the Greenpeace report, 'Make IT Green', the electricity demand of the world's data centres and the telecommunications network is 623 billion kWh, or 2% of global use – more than India, Germany or Canada. As demand for digital storage grows, let's hope social media can spark a green energy revolution. – John Eischeid

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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