I recently recorded a story for KQED radio about Apple’s “dirty” iCloud and the more I dug into the issue, the greener the world’s most valuable company appeared to get. By the time I’d finished researching the topic, visiting a local data center, talking with an expert in energy efficiency, and interviewing members of the public at my local Whole Foods store, Apple released a statement announcing it was going “all in.”
“By the end of 2012, we’ll meet the energy needs of our Maiden, North Carolina, data center using entirely renewable sources,” the statement read.
The data center is a LEED Platinum building (the highest rating of the US Green Building Council standards) with an impressive collection of energy efficient design features from a chilled water storage system to a white cool roof which maximizes solar reflection. The whole project looks so “insanely green” it might start to make once green-revered Google turn a shade of (envious) green.
Was it the black balloons released in Apple’s spectacular retail stores in the Bay Area and around the world? The giant iPod “squatting” outside Apple’s Headquarters in Cupertino? The supersize iPhones walking around the campus demanding Apple clean its “dirty” cloud? The slick video or the 200,000+ petitions asking Apple CEO Tim Cook to stop using dirty coal? The environmental group Greenpeace would like to think so.
But it’s likely that none of the above induced Apple to green its cloud. These decisions to install 20 MW of solar arrays (from SunPower) and the largest non-utility fuel cell installation (from Bloom Energy) were years in the making, and the Greenpeace campaign weeks old. But having Greenpeace on its case does appear to have helped Apple discover some transparency in its operations. Something for which it’s not exactly famous. And that transparency will likely spur further clean action from other IT companies.
In a detailed release, Apple explained exactly where the 60% onsite clean energy is coming from and made a public commitment to power the remainder using local and regional clean energy supplies, including NC GreenPower.
In the war of words and facts between the environmentalist group and Apple, prior to the company coming clean, several commentators accused Greenpeace of “doing a Mike Daisey” on Apple. That is, intentionally fabricating the facts to make a stronger case against the tech giant. In the end, Greenpeace spokesperson Gary Cook told me, “We will continue our campaign to push Apple – and other IT giants like Microsoft and Amazon – to clean the cloud until Apple has policies to ensure that they will grow using exclusively clean energy.”
As for Google and the other fast growing cloud users like Amazon and Microsoft, we’ll be watching closely to see if a “greener than thou” race starts warming up. Each leapfrogging the other to out-green their competitor’s data centers. A race for the most insanely green cloud? Bring it on.
Bill Weihl, former Green Czar at Google will start work greening Facebook in late January next year. As Fresh Dialogues predicted on his departure from Google last November, Weihl will stay in the green arena and plans to “advance sustainability” at Facebook. No details yet on his job title or the extent of his responsibilities, but he confirmed, “the focus will be on sustainability, clean energy, energy efficiency, etc.” We anticipate Weihl will use his extensive experience and passion for green to drive Facebook’s sustainable practices, leveraging its game-changing apps and Facebook’s vast membership of over 800 million active users.
Under his leadership at Google from 2006 to 2011, the company took a unique role in green policy advocacy as well as over $700 M in cutting edge clean energy investment. In July, Fresh Dialogues covered Google’s Green Dream, an audacious report outlining how the right green investment and policy could positively impact the economy and the planet. Without Weihl at the helm, Green at Google may lose some impetus, although Google’s Parag Chokshi assured us green investment and programs will continue. A new Green Czar has not yet been announced.
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Google is on a green spending spree. By July 2011 it had invested over $700 M in clean energy. Today the figure is over $850 M and set to grow (approaching $1 B as at August 2012). Fresh Dialogues asked Google: How does it choose green startups and projects?
He’s talking about large solar power tower projects, like BrightSource’s Ivanpah project in California’s Mojave Desert to which Google contributed $168 M; and one of the world’s largest wind farms, Alta Wind Energy Center, also in the Mojave Desert where Google invested $55 M.
In June this year, Google demonstrated its game-changing strategy by investing in SolarCity. This time it was a $280 M investment, to create a fund enabling the solar company to make residential rooftop installations more affordable (often eliminating the upfront cost for homeowners).
“Google is setting an example that other leading American companies can follow,” said Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity. “The largest 200 corporations in the U.S. have more than $1 trillion in cash on their balance sheets. Investments in solar energy generate returns for corporate investors, offer cost savings for homeowners, create new local jobs…and protect the environment.”
Despite the departure of Google’s Green Czar – Bill Weihl – this week, Parag Chokshi confirms that “we have a strong team and our work will continue. ..we actually have several executives that work on our green initiatives … other executives include Rick Needham, who has led and oversees our $850M in clean energy investments; and Urs Hoelzle, who oversees our entire infrastructure and has spearheaded our energy efficiency work.”
This video was recorded at the Google Headquarters in Mountain View CA on July 8, 2011.
Google’s infamous Don’t Be Evilmantra has inspired some remarkable projects, including the newly launched Google Ideas, but it’s Google’s Green Dream that caught my attention this week.
On Friday, I sat down with Parag Chokshi, Clean Energy Public Affairs Manager, at Google’s Mountain View Headquarters. We discussed Google’s recently published report, The Impact of Clean Energy Innovationwhich paints a picture of green nirvana in the US economy and energy market – if green investment and government incentives spur rapid innovation. And it’s a big IF, based on some rather optimistic assumptions, that’s why we’re calling it Google’s Green Dream.
Among the report’s predictions… By 2030, clean energy innovation will:
– boost US economic growth by $155-$244 Billion in GDP/year
– create over one million new jobs
– help electric vehicles command a 90% market share (small cars and trucks)
– save households almost $1000/year in energy bills
– reduce US oil consumption by over 1 B barrels/ year and greenhouse gases by 13-20%
The report concludes that if investment and incentives are delayed five years, the opportunity cost will be $2-3 Trillion.
Is this a realistic Green Dream by Google’s Green Czar Bill Weihl and his team? Or naive wishful thinking? Chokshi acknowledges that Google is examining some “aggressive scenarios” but underlines that the report’s purpose is to stimulate debate on how to get to this Green Dream; and to spur more investment by both the public and private sector. In this Fresh Dialogues VIDEO, Chokshi outlines the dramatic improvements in battery technology that are crucial to increasing the adoption of electric vehicles, but declined to confirm whether Google is investing its considerable financial and engineering muscle in the already crowded race to build a better EV battery. We can only speculate.
Today, we’re presenting the second in our new Lesson Plan Series based on Fresh Dialogues interviews. The series is compiled by Lisa Lubliner, our new Fresh Dialogues Education Expert.
Lesson Plan: How to Predict the Future
In 2010, New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman, made some bold predictions in a Fresh Dialogues interview. He predicted that the demand for Clean Energy (solar, wind, biofuels) was going to explode and that if the US government doesn’t invest sufficiently in Clean Energy research, China is going to dominate the Energy Technology industry.
“What do you suppose our standard of living will be like if we don’t dominate the ET industry?” he said. “If the next great solar company is Chinese? If the next great wind companies are Danish? If the next great battery companies are all Japanese?” Read the transcript here.
News analysts, politicians, historians, and scientists all use current information to predict the future and make decisions for acting. Using historical documents, this lesson encourages students to consider: Why do we make predictions about the future? Do predictions help us? If so, how? On what do we base the predictions that we make?
What did historical figures imagine our lives would look like today? How can we make informed predictions about the future? In this lesson, students consider and discuss predictions about life in 2011 that were written in 1931 by prominent thinkers of the day, and then draw on New York Times articles to develop their own predictions about the future.