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Apple Gets More of Its Power From Coal Than Any Other Big Tech Company

contributors@theatlantic.com (Alexis Madrigal)

While Google's worked hard to rely less on coal, Apple has not taken climate considerations into its datacenter decisions.


The world's tech leaders all need large amounts of electricity to drive their data centers, but they don't all get their power the same way.

Some, most notably Google*, have made an effort to reduce the amount of coal that powers their data centers. Others, like Apple, HP, and IBM, have not. Those three companies get half or more of their power from the carbon heaviest fuel of them all. Absent any kind of real energy policymaking in this country, people who care about climate and energy can only use their consumer dollars to influence the way that companies behave. So, this disparity in company strategy should be highlighted. There's just no reason that Apple can't locate its datacenters in places with a cleaner electrical generation mix. None. They're too profitable to pretend otherwise.

Without considering externalities, power is nominally cheapest in the southeastern United States, where coal reigns and the pacific Northwest, where hydropower helps keep prices down. So many companies have chosen to situate their datacenters in those two areas, though they have very different climate impacts. 

Of course, data centers are not the root cause of the world's energy and climate dilemma. Datacenters are estimated to use about two percent of American electricity. Moving people, goods, water, and air takes a lot more energy than keeping the world's servers on. But the point is that these tech companies have deployed different strategies for getting their electricity and those strategies have climate consequences.

This map from our partners at the Climate Desk shows 52 of the largest data centers. Hover over a point on the map to see who owns the plant and how reliant it is on coal according to Greenpeace estimates. 

* Dell has many fewer data centers than the other companies on the list, so it's harder to make a direct comparison between that company and Apple.

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