Facebook's Quest to Unfriend Coal Will Take Time

Facebook still uses more coal than renewable energy, but
it is on track to procure 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2015.

The world’s biggest social networking company has
disclosed that 23% of the energy for its data centers and offices in 2011 came
from renewable energy; 27% comes from coal-generated electricity, 17% from
natural gas, 13% from nuclear and 20% from "other" spot purchases
that may or many not include any of those sources.

Facebook’s carbon footprint from those facilities,
employee travel and other factors was 285,000 metric tons (about 628.3 million
pounds) of carbon dioxide equivalents, according to a report posted by the
company on its Web site
.

“We’re releasing this data because we believe in the
power of openness, and because we hope that adding another data point to our
collective understanding of our industry’s environmental impact will help us
all keep improving,” the company says on its site. “We recognize that this data
is just one slice of our overall environmental footprint, but we think it’s an
important starting point.”

Facebook hopes to by at least 25%, a "stretch"
goal that is made harder by its fast growth rate – the social network now has
more than 950 million members. Indeed, the energy mix may get “worse before it
gets better."

Projects such the massive server farm it is building near
the Arctic Circle in Sweden will help,
because the severe cold will
keep the servers cool naturally seriously reducing the amount of energy needed
to cool the equipment. That facility is scheduled to come online in 2014.

Facebook has become a leader among cloud computing
services companies when it comes to clean energy sourcing, but only after
enormous pressure from Greenpeace. The two announced a partnership in late 2011
that to work together toward that goal.

"Facebook looks forward to a day when our primary
energy sources are renewable, and we are working with Greenpeace and others to
help bring that day close," said Marcy Scott Lynn, one of Facebook’s
sustainability directors, when that deal was announced.

Greenpeace praised Facebook’s disclosure this week,
calling it rare.

“Facebook has committed to being fully renewably powered,
and today’s detailed disclosure and announcement of a clean energy target shows
that the company means business and wants the world to follow its progress,”
says Gary Cook, a Greenpeace International analyst. “Unfortunately, the
transparency Facebook exhibited today is still rare among companies who are
racing to build our online world.”

Facebook used about 532 million kilowatt-hours of power
last year. Aside from its commitment to renewables, it has created the Open
Compute Project
, an organization that advocates the creation of more energy
efficiency technologies for servers and data centers.

The amount of energy used by massive data centers — along
with the generating sources behind them — is  scrutinized closely by Greenpeace
in regular reports
.

There’s reason to watch this closely. Data centers to
house the explosion of virtual information currently consume 1.5-2% of global
electricity, growing at 12% a year.

For more about Facebook’s footprint:

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