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'Unfriend Coal' Campaign Moves Facebook to Go Greener
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October 27, 2011

'Unfriend Coal' Campaign Moves Facebook to Go Greener

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor

 Following a 20-month crusade by Greenpeace urging users to give Facebook (News - Alert) the “cold shoulder” because of its fossil-fueled data centers, the social networking giant will open its first international server farm in Luleå, Sweden —and will rely on the frigid arctic air and 100 percent renewable energy sources to keep its operations running smoothly.

Amsterdam-based  Greenpeace International — the largest independent direct-action environmental organization in the world — inspired 700,000 users to ask Facebook to go greener through an “Unfriend Coal” campaign. The initiative was prompted by a February 2010 announcement that Facebook would build a massive data center in Oregon and operate it on coal-generated electricity.

“This is a great step forward for Facebook, but we would like more details on how much renewable energy will power its data center in Luleå,” said Casey Harrell, Greenpeace IT analyst. “With the IT sector one of the fastest growing consumers of electricity in the world, Facebook’s taking leadership on renewable energy could help determine whether we have a dirty ‘cloud’ or not.”

In April 2011, Greenpeace released the “How Dirty is Your Data?” report, and calculated the amount of coal power that  Facebook was using to run its servers at 53.2 percent.  In fact, each of Facebook‘s U.S. datacenters still is estimated to use the same amount of electricity as 30,000 American homes. 

Since Greenpeace started its “Unfriend Coal” campaign, Facebook has responded by taking several key steps toward building a greener organization, including launching the Open Compute Energy Efficiency Project in April 2011; and just last month, announcing a partnership with Arlington, Virginia-based  Opower, in order to encourage users to monitor their own energy consumption.

While Facebook’s 800 million users worldwide will undoubtedly “like” today’s news of a more environmentally correct Facebook, if Facebook is to truly go green, Greenpeace is calling on the company to:

  • State a public preference for siting its new datacenter infrastructure in locations where they can be significantly powered by clean renewable energy. This will send an important signal to IT companies and electricity providers that want to compete for future Facebook business.
  • Share its total energy footprint, as was recently embraced by Google (News - Alert) .
  • Advocate for a significant shift in investment with the utilities it already contracts — Duke Energy (News - Alert) in North Carolina and Pacific Power in Oregon — which rely heavily on coal.

In the meanyimr, the Lulea location offers Facebook a number of important advantages. The robust power grid in northern Sweden enables Facebook to reduce its reliance on backup generators by 70 percent; and the climate in

Lulea allows Facebook to replicate its unique data center cooling methods, which use 100 percent outside air. In addition, this new data center will be Facebook's first to run on power drawn from completely renewable resources.

With abundant hydroelectric power, Northern Sweden has some of the lowest-cost power available anywhere in Europe. As a natural, renewable energy source, hydropower is also carbon-free. Located 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Lulea lies near hydropower stations on a river that generates twice as much electricity as the Hoover Dam on the border of Nevada and Arizona, Facebook said.

"With low-cost electric power, low cooling costs and a favorable tax environment for businesses, Sweden is an ideal location for data center expansion. We have been working for more than two years to identify excellent sites throughout Sweden that can accommodate large data center infrastructure investment," explained Invest Sweden's Tomas Sokolnicki, Manager of the Sweden Datacenter Initiative. "We worked closely with Facebook as they thoroughly vetted several candidate locations from our growing inventory of dozens of available, pre-qualified sites, before finally deciding on Lulea. Our agency stands ready to help other international companies with site identification, acquisition, permits and other assistance."

Facebook said the move also reflects the growing international presence of the Palo Alto (News - Alert), California-based site. "Facebook has more users outside the United States than inside," Facebook Director of Site Operations Tom Furlong told The Associated Press. "It was time for us to expand in Europe."

Furlong said European users would get better performance from having a node for data traffic closer to them. Facebook currently stores data at sites in California, Virginia, and Oregon; and is building another facility in North Carolina.

The Lulea data center, which will comprise three 300,000-square foot server buildings, is scheduled for completion by 2014. The site will need 120 MW of energy, fully derived from hydropower. In case of a blackout, construction designs call for each building to have 14 backup diesel generators with a total output of 40 MW.

Facebook did not reveal the price of its investment, but Lulea officials have previously projected construction costs of up to $760 million. The Swedish government said it was ready to pitch in with $16 million.

Cheryl Kaften is an accomplished communicator who has written for consumer and corporate audiences. She has worked extensively for MasterCard (News - Alert) Worldwide, Philip Morris USA (Altria), and KPMG, and has consulted for Estee Lauder and the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspapers. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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