The iPhone powers growth but not recorded growth Credit - Apple registered traedmark

Apple is claiming something which isn’t true, that the company now runs on 100% renewable energy. It’s not just not true, it’s nonsense, pish and or, to taste, tosh. No one at all has worked out how to run a 24/7 energy system purely upon renewables. At least, not one that delivers reasonable amounts of power as and when desired. The claim that anyone has is thus a serious misstatement of the truth. It also underplays the difficulties we’ve got in getting the economy to a non-emitting energy system. Assuming, of course, that we even want to do that.

What Apple is actually claiming – and it’s necessary to read through quite a bit of their announcement to grasp this – is that Apple generates the same amount of renewable energy as it uses, or at least purchases renewably generated, or renewables certificates in the last resort. It isn’t true that Apple only uses such renewably generated for the same reason that plagues evey other such desire and dream of a greener world – intermittency.

This is direct from Apple and it is wrong, pish and tosh style wrong:

Cupertino, California — As part of its commitment to combat climate change and create a healthier environment, Apple today announced its global facilities are powered with 100 percent clean energy. This achievement includes retail stores, offices, data centers and co-located facilities in 43 countries — including the United States, the United Kingdom, China and India. The company also announced nine additional manufacturing partners have committed to power all of their Apple production with 100 percent clean energy, bringing the total number of supplier commitments to 23.

If this weren’t a family magazine I’d be describing this claim as the seed producing parts of male genitalia and not just that but great big hairy, dangly, ones. It’s nonsense.

One report has a slightly sheepish footnote to it:

Update April 9th, 4:17PM ET: Clarified that Apple, like Google, is not actually 100 percent powered by clean energy, but it uses the term to signal that it buys enough green energy to offset its global power consumption.

That’s quite possibly true. But it’s of little use in that fight against climate change which is why the distinction between the two claims is vitally important.

You have to see Apple’s Reno, Nevada, data center from the inside to truly understand how huge it is. It’s made up of five long white buildings sitting side by side on a dry scrubby landscape just off I-80, and the corridor that connects them through the middle is a quarter-mile long. On either side are big, dark rooms–more than 50 of them–filled with more than 200,000 identical servers, tiny lights winking in the dark from their front panels. This is where Siri lives. And iCloud. And Apple Music. And Apple Pay.

Powering all these machines, and keeping them cool, takes a lot of power–constant, uninterrupted, redundant power. At the Reno data center, that means 100% green power from three different Apple solar farms.

This is really extremely unlikely. Those server farms operate 24 hours a day. Solar power plants tend not to given that rotation of the Earth thing. And no, the specific plant we’re talking about,. Fort Churchill, is indeed a PV one, doesn’t work at night, at least not unless Nevada’s been as stupid as Spain was over feed in tariffs.

It could be that the solar farm produces twice the electricity Apple needs during the day, half of which they sell to others. Then at night, they buy similar power supplies back to power the server farms. But that’s not running on 100% renewables at all. It’s doing the easy part of going green but it doesn’t deal with that hard, possibly impossible, problem of intermittency.

What do we do about windmills when the wind does’t blow, what do we do about solar panels when the Sun don’t shine? And no, we’ve not got batteries capable of bridging the gap, at least not as yet.

Well, actually we do have absolutely great such batteries for coal, oil and natural gas are all, ultimately, produced by insolation and are thus just batteries for the very long term storage of solar power. But that’s not really quite what people mean, is it?

So, Apple says it runs on 100% renewables. Nope, that’s not a technological challenge anyone’s managed to crack as yet, not over cycles of energy. Apple is actually saying that it produces, or causes to be produced, renewable generated power up to 100% of the energy it uses. This is a very different thing because of that basic intermittency problem. Such a different thing that we’d have to regard the initial claim as nonsense, pish and or tosh.

And really, given the importance of saving the world through beating climate change we should be demanding truth and responsibility over such issues, shouldn’t we?

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  1. “Apple…uses the term to signal that it buys enough green energy to offset its global power consumption.” Translation: Apple pays protection money to enough people in the Sustainability priesthood to be absolved of its original environmental sins. Does the reader think that this virtue-signaling drives up the cost of your MacBook? Or is it funded by Apple’s pixie-dust mines?

  2. There’s a much more pedestrian reason why Apple is not using 100% renewable energy. The claim includes the retail stores. Most of the retail stores are located in malls, the rest on high streets. If your store is in one of those places, you don’t get to bring your own power. You use mall power of whatever the local power utility is providing. You can’t have the Apple store running on solar energy while the Zara next door uses coal. They all use whatever the mall gets from the power utility.

  3. In any case, there is probably an EROEI problem here – the Energy Return On Energy Invested of the wind turbines and solar panels is woeful.

    So these are manufactured using lots of rare earths, mostly in China, who then use coal and other fossil fuels in the manufacturing processes.

    Maybe someone more familiar with the process (Tim knows a fair bit about rare earths) can correct me, but I’d be interested to know how much the turbines and solar panels can offset in this regard.

    Does the dirty energy used in the inefficient manufacturing and transportation of a giant wind turbine and its component parts even exceed the dirty energy it replaces during its lifetime of operations, for example?

    If not…………….

    • Excellent question. According to some studies (vigorously disputed by those with a vested interest in green energy subsidy mining), the EROEI of solar installed outside a band roughly +/-45 degrees of the equator is less than unity.

      In other words, we can think of PV panels in the UK as giant batteries, charged up with dirty energy in China during their manufacture, and then slowly releasing it when the sun is shining on them. They do absolutely nothing to reduce CO2 emissions (if that’s what we cared about), merely transferring them to the country of manufacture.

  4. They can only perpetuate this myth though as long as there are non-renewable sources, so it’s not just virtue signalling it’s doing it at some else’s expense. Wonder what the premium is on the certificates, might be a useful question about fiduciary duty for the directors as it’s redicing profit

  5. Local free paper has article about how protestors against a new pipeline have caused so many problems the investors are threatening to pull out…..the next page has an article complaint about a wave energy research device that is spoiling the view from a local beach

    • Clean, renewable hydro-power from Quebec was supposed to replace dirty “fossil” fuels. Surprise, NIMBYs (NotInMyBackYard) from northern New Hampshire have killed the best route for the transmission line, one with a hokey study claiming that the mere sight of it would halve the value of his property. The state has rules that depend on non-issues like whether the power is consumed in-state. You can’t satisfy Greens, no matter how much undeserved control you give them.

  6. To store renewable energy, build a lot of pumped-storage schemes (we’ve got three in the UK and a leading academic reckoned we could build up to ten more with tolerable economics). You need a steep drop in a river over a short distance and some impermeable rock – I think that there is a pretty good site for one in Arizona in the Colorado Plateau although the Pueblo Native Americans might object.

    • True, but to store sufficient energy to power the UK through a few cold, dark, still days in January would require some thousands of Dinorwigs (the largest pumped storage scheme in the world, with a capacity of 9 GWhrs). And that’s just for electrical power, the bulk of domestic heating still comes from gas/oil, and then there’s transportation …