Was greenpeace's apple protest timed too well? by Peter Judge
A fascinating week for green technology at Apple. Greenpeace increased the scale of its protests against Apple’s “dirty cloud” - asking it to shift to electricity from renewable sources - and then Apple issued an announcement that it is pretty much doing exactly that.
By doubling the size of on-site solar power at its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, Apple was able to announce it will make 60 percent of the electricity the site uses from solar and fuel cells - and will buy the rest from renewable sources.
I still have some questions about the figures. Greenpeace estimated that Maiden needed 100MW, and (maybe a slightly more reliable witness) Amazon reckoned 78MW. Apple says the center has a full-capacity load of only 20MW. That makes fully-renewable power an option, especially when you are already putting in the biggest solar array in the US, and the biggest fuel cell installation outside a utility.
But why are those figures so far apart? Apple should know what its actual electricity needs are, and it wouldn’t make sense in the long term to lie about them, so let’s take that as read and look at the timing. .
The extra solar array - doubling what was already a national record - is a big step. But why the coincidence? Was Apple responding to the criticism, or was there some other sort of co-ordination going on there?
At the start of the week, Greenpeace’s protest already looked a bit odd. Painting an Apple on a survival pod (an “iPod”, get it?) and putting it outside Apple HQ worked visually, but at this stage, Greenpeace was protesting at a company that was already making giant moves towards using sustainable energy.
Greenpeace would say that its protests aim to keep companies improving, and it picks its targets for the publicity it can generate, so I guess that could explain protesting there instead of at another vendor.
Greenpeace has been after Apple over energy for some time - and the previous week pulled off a more dangerous but less visual stunt - stopping a coal train en route to Apple’s energy supplier, Duke.
And then the environmental group chose this week to make its big statement. It was pretty highly co-ordinated: projecting images onto Apple’s building the day before, then showing up with the pod and some activists dressed as iPhones. The pod-sters read out protesting tweets through loudspeakers, and the phones displayed tweets on their screens, while handing out leaflets.
Two days later, and Apple announced its big boost to solar energy at Maiden, and promised its other US data centers, in Prineville Oregon, and in Newark, would be 100 percent renewable. It also published a list of other corporate sites which use renewables.
The thing is, Apple and Greenpeace would have been in communication. Apple would have been doing its best to stave off public demonstrations such as the one at the start of the week. And Greenpeace would be looking at Apple’s actions as closely as possible. Getting plans in place for a large solar expansion would be hard to keep secret.
I suspect that Greenpeace knew the announcement was coming, and got its protest in first, so it could take more credit for the change.
Then after the announcement, Greenpeace welcomed the move, and promised to keep up its vigilance. The whole thing seemed a bit orchestrated to me.