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Facebook to run on 100% renewable energy by 2020 (apparently)

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By 2020 Facebook is aiming to power its global operations with 100% renewable energy and to reduce its greenhouse gas emission by 75% the company has stated this week.
As the world's largest social network, Facebook is an intensive user of energy.
As the world’s largest social network, Facebook’s data centres have to process the data of 2.23 billion monthly active users- an activity which is energy intensive. A report in Fast Company reckons that ‘In 2017, the company’s carbon footprint was 979,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent- roughly as much as the emissions from more than 100,000 homes, according to an EPA calculator’.

With such a sizeable carbon footprint, and pressure mounting on companies to reduce their carbon footprints it’s no surprise that Facebook is embracing renewable energy. The company first began to purchase wind power in 2013, and in the last 12 months alone has purchased over 2,500 megawatts.

In 2015, Facebook set a goal of supporting 50% of their facilities with renewable energy by 2018, achieving the goal a year early, reaching 51% clean and renewable energy in 2017.

A statement from Facebook on the policy said:

“We are proud of the impact our renewable energy program is having on local communities and the market in general. All of these wind and solar projects are new and on the same grid as our data centres. That means that each of these projects brings jobs, investment and a healthier environment to the communities that host us- from Prineville, Oregon, and Los Lunas, New Mexico, to Henrico, Virginia, and Luleå, Sweden.”

“We bring an open and innovative approach to finding renewable energy solutions that fit our needs and can move energy markets forward. We do this by working to enable access to renewable energy resources for other companies and organisation by building infrastructure, opening projects to other buyers or establishing green tariffs, which allow customers to buy renewable energy from their local utilities.”
Facebook's renewable energy program is helping local communities access clean energy.
Too good to be true?

Whilst it’s very admirable for a company to aim to power its operations entirely using renewable energy, is it actually possible?

As we wrote here on EngineeringPro about Apple’s similar claim to be 100% renewable powered:

“The truth is that the ‘100% powered by renewable energy’ claim relies on a sleight of hand. Why? Because companies that make this claim remain connected to the main electricity grid. By being connected to the grid, they are making use of energy that is predominantly generated by coal, natural gas, and nuclear power (data from the US Energy Information Administration indicates that as much as 85% of the energy on the electricity grid comes from these sources).”

“Yes, some of the energy in the electricity grid does come from renewable sources however it remains a very small percentage. In 2016, about 1% of US electricity generation was from solar energy (source: EIA). For wind power this number creeps up to 6% (source: EIA).”

“Even if the amount of renewable energy being fed into the grid were to drastically increase it would still be impossible to claim that you are 100% renewable powered. The reason being that once electric power is on the grid, there is no distinction between power that is renewable and power that is from conventional sources. As a result, it is impossible to select ‘what kind’ of energy that you draw from the grid. When you are connected to the grid, you are using electricity from a mix of hundreds of power plants using different generation technologies- both renewable and conventional.”

“Companies such as Apple get around this problem by purchasing what is known as Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) which are a tradable commodity that guarantee the cleanliness of an energy source. In this sense, Apple is purchasing clean energy. But is it 100% powered by renewables? No.”
Facebook is just one of many silicon valley tech companies embracing renewable energy to power their operations.
Facebook states that the new wind and solar projects that it is funding are ‘new and on the same grid as our data centres’, but they neglect to state whether or not there are back up conventional sources linked to the same grid (most renewable sources rely on fast-ramping natural gas power plants to step-in during lulls in generation e.g. when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing). 

Will Facebook really be 100% renewable powered by 2020? It’s hard to say, but I don’t think they will really be dumping the fossil fuels anytime soon…

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Recent Comments
In Theory it sounds like a great idea,Data Centers require huge amounts of Power to operate Coolers and UPS systems, to use Solar you require square Miles of space for panels Centers in Cities would have to relocate.
Ken Hardy, 30 August 2018
want to work in renewables or Oil, Gas or Nuclear power generation, i have ingénieur in hydrogéology
zakarya khalef, 02 February 2019
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Facebook to run on 100% renewable energy by 2020 (apparently) - Time to read 4 min
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