eXtensions - Monday 24 April 2017

Cassandra: Data Centers - Different Environmental Approaches of Apple and Google

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


There has been growing interest in alternative forms of energy in recent years as the cost of fossil fuels increases and there is concern in some quarters about the environmental damage that their use causes. Some companies may take an approach that not only protects the environment, but also allows them to work with local communities: benefits all round.

In Thailand there has been some research into wave power, already used in Europe for several years, as one alternative to the significant reliance on massive hydroelectric installations, which themselves are showing problems, especially with lower water retention in recent years.

Chaiyaphum, Thailand
Chulabhorn Dam, Khon San, Chaiyaphum, Thailand

Other main forms of power generating are by natural gas (from Myanmar or gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand) or by other fossil fuels such as lignite.

Lampang, Thailand
Opencast Mining for Lignite - Mae Moh

Climate restricts the locations here that wind technology can be used and while there are a few windmills installed (e.g. Phuket) this is not widespread. The regular sunshine here, however, has seen an increase in the numbers of solar power installations. With a location only a few degrees above the Equator and around 12 hours of daylight year round, there is an optimum angle for solar panels used here (around 14°), avoiding the need for expensive, direction-changing mechanisms.

Lopburi, Thailand
Solar panel installation, Lopburi

Worldwide, companies are trying to reduce their reliance on traditional forms of power and some are going to great lengths to cut the bills while at the same time reduce damage to the environment with so-called Green Energy.

Apple has a number of installations at some of its establishments and its new Cupertino campus is "powered 100 percent by renewable energy" including 17 MW of rooftop solar (Casey Anderson, Renewable Energy World). A number of other installations use solar power, such as its data center in North Carolina (Lucas Mearian, ComputerWorld).

It is not a surprise to see that its new data center that is being built in Denmark (Jutland) will run 100% on renewable energy. Christian Zibreg (iDownloadBlog) citing a MacWorld item which used information from the Apple Environmental Responsibility Report release, tells us that the center is "designed to capture excess heat from its equipment and conduct it into the local district heating system to help warm homes in the community".

Also, partnering with the local university in the dairy farming area, they are developing "a system that passes agricultural waste through a digester to generate methane, which is then used to create renewable electricity for the data center" (Does anyone remember the scenes in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome when pigs were used to create energy?

There are several implications here, and not just with the use of energy that will cut the bills. Apple wins in several ways: by partnering with the local university, there is a relationship with the country and community; this is enhanced by the use of the otherwise-waste heat, by returning this to the community to be used in its heating system; and there will perhaps be some employment opportunities at the plant longterm, although certainly short-time with its construction.

Within a couple of days of seeing the above, I read a report about Google and its South Carolina data center, in Goose Creek. As the servers there create heat, the company draws water from local sources and this is in the region of some 40 million gallons a day (151,416,471 litres). Google wants to increase this (Bo Petersen, The Post and Courier) by 1.5 million gallons (5,678,118 litres) and would take this from an aquifer: natural underground water storage.

Locals have not been happy about this for several months with the chairman of the Mount Pleasant Water Supply Committee saying back in September that this could imperil the area's drinking water (David Slade, The Berkeley Independent). And Google apparently wants more: up to "three times the amount they are currently permitted."

In a world in which Apple is often seen by some as the bad guys whatever they do, and Google's company motto is "Don't be evil", there seems to be a contradiction here with the different approaches to data centers and the ways they are operated.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to

Back to eXtensions
Back to Home Page

All content copyright © G. K. Rogers 2017