Barbed Wire by Doug Cooper: Renewable energy not what it seems
October 11, 2013
I was a little surprised when I read that Apple Inc. is now claiming that their data centers are powered 100-percent by renewable energy sources. Apple accomplishes this miracle by buying a little unreliable green energy and a pile of energy credits. The computer giant promotes their renewable use while being wired directly to coal fired power plants. Energy Facts Weekly pointed out recently that the power plants that furnish electricity to Apple actually burn coal and not energy credits. Apple's total energy use turns out to be about 55 percent from coal. It's strange to think that a technology company would want its customers to believe something that isn't a scientific fact.
Most of the electrons that are powering the cloud and letting us stream old television episodes into our homes is coming from plain old reliable coal. The amount of energy used to power the digital world is truly staggering. Mark Mills, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, has figured out that the total consumption of the electricity needed to stream one movie a week on the Internet is equal to the amount of power needed to run two average-sized refrigerators for a year. We just can't see that while we are sitting at home poking at our computers that a serious amount of electricity is being used to make it all happen.
Using Apple's logic, if I bought some weight loss credits from starving Ethiopians, then I could claim my body mass index was perfect. Weight loss would become as effortless as using renewable energy. What is truly frightening about this kind of thinking is that it leads people to believe that we no longer need basic energy production. Cheyenne, Wyo., now has a data center and a super computer. The number one reason those two installations are located in Wyoming is the availability of low-cost, reliable electricity generated by coal. A new unit had to be added to a Wyoming coal fired power plant just to provide for the massive load of the super computer. Wyoming's economic development proponents like to sing the same renewable song about using wind power. Once again, just follow the power cord and see where the Cheyenne Data Center is actually plugged in.
The consumption of electricity in the world is increasing steadily upward. As the lowest cost method of generating power is being threatened, it's easy to imagine that Agriculture's access to affordable energy may be caught between the environmental zealots and the digital consumer. No amount of paper credits will make up for the wreck that's coming.