Amazon has been accused of abandoning a much-publicised goal of running its datacentres on 100% renewable energy – instead focusing its attention on winning business from the oil and gas industry.
According to a Greenpeace report released earlier this year, some of Amazon’s most important datacentres in the US state of Virginia, where the company has committed to building its second HQ, are powered by only 12% renewable energy. Across the company as a whole, Amazon reached 50% renewable usage in 2018, and has not issued any updates since.
This week, a report from the tech news site Gizmodo suggested one reason for the slowdown was Amazon’s increasing focus on bringing on board large oil and gas companies as Amazon Web Service customers.
The figures represent slow progress towards the goal, first announced in 2014, to power the entire company using renewables, and have led some to accuse Amazon of abandoning the goal entirely.
Alongside the organisation’s report, Greenpeace’s Elizabeth Jardim said: “Despite Amazon’s public commitment to renewable energy, the world’s largest cloud computing company is hoping no one will notice that it’s still powering its corner of the internet with dirty energy.
“Unless Amazon and other cloud giants in Virginia change course, our growing use of the internet could lead to more pipelines, more pollution and more problems for our climate.”
Gizmodo’s report cited Andrew Jassy, the AWS chief executive, who told an oil and gas conference in Houston last month: “A lot of the things that we have built and released recently have been very much informed by conversations with our oil and gas customers and partners.”
Gizmodo contrasted his statement with another, reported in December, from the AWS executive Peter DeSantis, who “told colleagues inside the company that renewable energy projects are too costly and don’t help it win business”.
Amazon’s renewables record is in stark contrast to some of its competitors, most notably Google, which reported success in reaching 100% renewables use in 2017. “Our engineers have spent years perfecting Google’s datacentres, making them 50% more energy-efficient than the industry average,” the company’s head of technical infrastructure, Urs Hölzle, said at the time.
“But we still need a lot of energy to process trillions of Google searches every year, play more than 400 hours of YouTube videos uploaded every minute and power the products and services that our users depend on. That’s why we began purchasing renewable energy – to reduce our carbon footprint and address climate change. But it also makes business sense.”
A year later, Apple declared its “retail stores, offices, datacentres and co-located facilities in 43 countries” were powered by 100% clean energy. Facebook has committed to do the same by 2020.
In a statement issued after this story was published, Amazon said: “Greenpeace has chosen to report inaccurate data about the energy consumption and renewable mix of AWS’s infrastructure and did not perform proper due-diligence by fact checking with AWS before publishing. Greenpeace’s estimates overstate both AWS’s current and projected energy usage.
“As of December 2018, Amazon and AWS have invested in 53 renewable energy projects (6 of which are in Virginia), totaling over 1,016 megawatts (MW) and are expected to deliver over 3,075,636 million megawatt hours (MWh) of energy annually.
“AWS remains firmly committed to achieving 100% renewable energy across our global network, achieving 50% renewable energy in 2018. We have a lot of exciting initiatives planned for 2019 as we work towards our goal and are nowhere near done.”