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?