Facebook’s efforts to clean up content on its site? Not going well. Its efforts to clean up the energy that powers its massive data operations? Going markedly better.
The social media giant announced on Tuesday that it plans on going 100 per cent renewable by 2020 while also reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 75 per cent.
Facebook consumes an absolutely monstrous amount of energy. To keep all those autoplay videos at the ready for you to like and share, its data centres have to keep humming along 24/7. The company used 2.46 million megawatt hours of energy in 2017, the equivalent of the annual usage of nearly 342,000 American households. Of that, 95 per cent was consumed by data centres.
The company has already made strides toward ensuring that its energy comes from renewable sources, commissioning wind and solar projects that would otherwise not have been built, according to a company spokesperson. Those projects accounted for 51 per cent of all of the energy Facebook used in 2017 (that renewable energy goes onto the grid so it’s not wholly accurate to say Facebook is 51 per cent powered by renewables), placing it ahead of its 2018 goal of 50 per cent renewable energy. The second biggest source of energy Facebook uses is coal at 18 per cent, followed by nuclear and natural gas.
That mix continues to shift toward renewables in 2018, though, with company funding a gigawatt of renewable energy this year. The biggest lift will come from cleaning up operations at its data centre in the US state of Oregon, the company’s single biggest source of carbon pollution. Facebook is currently constructing or funding six utility-scale renewable energy projects in Oregon and Utah to help offset the emissions currently needed to keep that data centre humming.
If the company reaches its 100 per cent renewable goal, it still has some carbon pollution clean up to do. Facebook emitted 979,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide—the equivalent of about 213,000 cars—in 2017 according to its corporate sustainability report. Commuting, corporate travel, and new building construction are other areas where Facebook can shrink its carbon footprint further. Facebook’s spokesperson told us that other company greenhouse gas sources include natural gas for cooking and heating at its offices, and diesel to run backup generators at its data centres.
But Facebook seems committed to getting the work done. And frankly, the incentives are there. All this is a matter of economics with renewable energy getting cheaper by the day. Plus who the hell will use Facebook if we’re all wiped out by climate change?