Duelling Climate News: Amazon Embracing Big Oil AND Expanding Renewables?

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Two stories appearing in the last few days with contradictory claims about Amazon.

Amazon Is Aggressively Pursuing Big Oil As It Stalls Out On Clean Energy

Brian Merchant
Apr 9, 2019, 11:30pm

In 2014, Amazon announced that it would power its rapidly expanding fleet of data centres with 100 per cent renewable energy. Apple, Facebook, and Google made similar pledges two years before that, and pressure from consumers and environmental groups drove Amazon to follow suit. For the next two years, the tech giant made admirable strides toward achieving its goal, bankrolling large solar plants and wind farms. Then, it stopped.

Amazon hasn’t announced any new deals to supply clean energy to its data centres since 2016, and it quietly abandoned plans for one of its last scheduled wind farms last year. Meanwhile, in 2017, according to internal company documents viewed by Gizmodo, Amazon undertook a concerted push to win over a new industry, perhaps best summed up by the name of a presentation at Amazon Web Services’ annual company Sales Kick-Off event that February: “Positioning for Success in Oil & Gas.”

Over the last two years, as Amazon’s clean energy promises have stalled out, Earth’s most customer-centric company has aggressively courted the fossil fuels industry, landing deals and partnerships with companies like BP, Shell, and Halliburton, offering data-based services such as machine learning for enhanced exploration, internet of things-enabled oilfield automation, and remote site data transportation.

With the publication of its February 2019 report, Greenpeace pulled no punches: “Amazon Breaking Commitment to Power Cloud with 100% Renewable Energy,” its release announced. “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,” the activist group’s senior corporate campaigner, Elizabeth Jardim, wrote at the time.

Read more: https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2019/04/amazon-is-aggressively-pursuing-big-oil-as-it-stalls-out-on-clean-energy/

But Amazon is a green leader according to another story;

Amazon Focuses on Clean Energy to Power AWS Infrastructure

April 09, 2019, 09:54:00 AM EDT By Zacks Equity Research, Zacks.com

Amazon.com Inc. AMZN is gearing up for its upcoming projects associated with renewable energy initiatives. Markedly, the world is fast shifting to alternative energy and AWS is one among the many IT companies endeavoring to save the environment by switching over to green energy.

This time around, the firm has announced three new renewable energy projects in Ireland, Sweden and the United States to power Amazon Web Services (AWS) global infrastructure across the world.

The announcement is inline with the company’s commitment to gradually switch to using 100% renewable energy for the entire Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure that powers cloud computing services globally.

In total, these three projects will deliver more than 229 MW of power, which is expected to generate in excess of 670,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of renewable energy each year.

Read more: https://www.nasdaq.com/article/amazon-focuses-on-clean-energy-to-power-aws-infrastructure-cm1126587

What is happening? Is a powerful tech company attempting to greenwash their image? Or is Greenpeace being unfair – perhaps Amazon is trying as hard as they can to roll out renewables, but the move to green is taking longer than they hoped?

While most people associate Amazon with books, streaming movies and online orders, Amazon also runs much of the world’s web server infrastructure.

All those vast web server data centres are total energy hogs – they need 24/7 air conditioning and electricity on a gigantic scale. Although all data centres as a matter of course have backup power, they usually can’t take more than a few hours electricity outage without having to start shutting down their systems.

The Greenpeace report claims Amazon’s Virginia Data Centre, one of many, draws around 1.7GW of power, or 1700MW. Sourcing 229MW from renewables does not seem a significant contribution to Amazon’s overall energy budget.

Amazon wins data centre market share by being cheap and reliable, so I can understand their difficulties achieving their 100% renewable energy goal.

62 thoughts on “Duelling Climate News: Amazon Embracing Big Oil AND Expanding Renewables?

  1. Although all data centres as a matter of course have backup power,

    A few years ago I read they used diesel for backup, that they test on a regular basis,
    thus burning Carbon-based fuel when it is not actually needed.

    Does anyone have up to date information?

    • The best way to test an emergency power system is to switch off the mains and see if it comes up. There’s no point having an emergency backup if you’re not sure you can rely on it.

      • The problem is that tests are needed because there is a possibility of failure.

        So you have to do your tests in a manner that ensures you don’t crash the data centre if something fails.

        • Everything depends on the system. Conventionally, you have battery backup which holds the system until the generator stabilizes. If the generator comes up and then dies, you fail back to the batteries and then back to the mains.

        • Typically there is a sensor that is used by the controller for the back up generator. When this sensor detects that the main AC goes away, it starts up the generator.
          You can shut off power to this sensor without actually shutting off power to the entire building.

          Battery backup is usually wired in such a way that the batteries are always powering the building, while the AC is used to make sure that the batteries are always topped off.

          Batteries can be tested by isolating one battery (or battery bank) at a time while the AC is present, and then attaching a load to the battery and measuring how fast voltage levels drop.

        • Our small scale (compared to Amazon) computer system has battery then standby Diesel generation so if we suffer a site power loss the batteries keep the computers going till the gens are fully on load.

          James Bull

      • I used Firefox and I regularly get a notification on this web site that “Connections Is Not Secure, Parts of this page are not secure (such as images)” but it doesn’t stop me from viewing the web site.

    • “A few years ago I read they used diesel for backup, that they test on a regular basis…”

      This reminds me of an amusing incident that happened at a computer center I use to work for. Each month they would test their back-up system by starting the back-up diesel generator and running it for fifteen minutes to be sure that it started OK and was able to keep the rack of batteries that ran the Uninterruptible Power Supply charged. Eventually an actually power outage occurred and the diesel started up properly and ran…for twenty minutes…then shut down forcing them to shut down the computer system until the external power was restored. It turns out that they had a problem with the fuel system clogging after twenty minutes of operation but since they only tested the system for fifteen minutes each month, they never knew that they had that problem until the external power actually failed. Moral of the story, its probably a good idea to occasionally vary the way you test your systems.

  2. Imagine some “green” “artist” who works in digital media … paperless media … loses all their cloud data because the wind stopped blowing? Loses everything they’ve ever created … because the sun stopped shining (like every night)?

    • Well now, iffen those servers acting as/like “cloud” memories use the same technology as does my USB compatible “zip drive” memory, …… then there is no data loss if power is lost.

      The data can’t be accessed until power is restored.

      • Ahh yes … a perpetual cycle of loss-recovery-loss-recovery-loss-recovery … sounds so greenishly “efficient”. As-iffen …

        • Flash memory is a type of electronically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM), memory chips that retain information without requiring power.

          Solid-state drives: The newest flash memory application, SSDs can replace a computer’s hard drive. They have no moving parts, so mechanical failure is near zero. Solid-state drives are quieter and smaller than hard drives, and they provide faster response, access and boot-up times but consume much less power and run cooler. Traditional hard drives currently offer greater capacity and a lower price, but this will likely change. Early concerns that flash memory’s finite number of erase/write cycles would be a problem are abating as warranties for flash-based SSDs approach those of hard drives..

          https://www.computerworld.com/article/2550624/flash-memory.html

      • then there is no data loss if power is lost.
        ===========
        write once read many systems are typically much easier to protect against power loss, but require more storage than systems that allow update/delete. Interestingly, the old manual accounting ledgers did not allow update or delete, and big data systems follow the same model.

        The problem for all large systems is that eventually as you get bigger, you always have a failed component somewhere under repair. The traditional data base solution of roll-back/recover is not going to work, because you are unlikely to complete recovery before another failure hits.

        While partitioning can buy you some time, eventually the solution to the problem is to append all data, even updates and deletes, and use timestamps and logic to provide virtual updates and deletes.

        • Modern drives come equipped with failure detection logic that can usually detect a problem before it escalates to complete failure.

  3. I am always intrigued by the phrase ‘clean energy’. What does it mean? What is ‘clean’ about it, has it washed itself? It sounds to me like ‘sunlight soap’ a well known household product that is soap, but has no sunlight in it, not an ounce.

  4. The best way to kill off the idea that we can ever get to 100% renewable energy is to propose that new renewable infrastructure be manufactured using renewable energy exclusively. After all, we wouldn’t want to create massive new emissions in the short term.

    If that’s not feasible then what does it say about renewable energy targets in general?

  5. That’s known as sitting on the fence, refusing to take a position which might alienate your customers. IMHO a better position would have been to state, “We support both fossil fuels and green energy. What we don’t support is government mandates. Let the free market decide… speaking of free market, have you seen that Amazon now carries the [insert the latest greatest widget here].”

  6. My father use to love the old Poe saw “Believe half of what you see and nothing of what you hear.” In our new age of media propaganda, the internet and social media we should add if you read it, consider the opposite and then discard both.

      • BobM, when I read your comment it reminded me of what I just saw/heard on CNN International (in reference to Bibi N. winning a fifth term): CNN (strike 1) interviews a Palestinian (strike 2) Rapper (strike 3-you’re out!). Imagine my shock and surprise when the Palestinian Rapper said on CNN: Netanyahu is in favor of Israel and nothing else!

        • the Palestinian Rapper said on CNN: Netanyahu is in favor of Israel and nothing else!

          And that’s why Israel re-elected him. Imagine that, a country wanting a leader who favors that country.

  7. In the never-ending clash between “clean energy” fantasy and fossil-fueled reality, reality seems to be winning…again.

  8. I don’t think either of the two sources cited in the article is especially credible. I wouldn’t trust either one.

  9. It makes perfect sense to both strive to achieve greater non-polluting energy sourcing while recognizing that a goal of 100% is simply not yet practically achievable, when also trying to meet equally or more important objectives of system cost effectiveness and reliability.

    There are no 100% solutions. Only shades of gray. And Amazon, just like every other person or company, cannot please everyone all the time.

    • Modern fossil fuel consumers (power plants, autos, etc.) are for all intents and purposes already non polluting as most of the byproducts produced from clean combustion are CO2 and H2O, neither of which are pollutants or harmful in any way shape or form. If anything, the incremental CO2 is beneficial to the biosphere and since any warming is mostly limited to polar regions (the tropics can’t warm any more than they already are), what little warming might result reduces the consumption of fossil fuels required to keep warm without increasing the demand for air conditioning to keep cool.

      • Nonsense. All internal combustion engines and hydrocarbon-fueled thermal power plants emit pollutants of several kinds, in addition to CO2. Including particles, lead, ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, mercury, etc.

        Here’s a test for you:

        Go into your garage, shut all the doors and windows, start your vehicle’s motor, and wait there until you die. Then come back and tell us how internal combustion engines don’t pollute.

        • When my SUV was last smog tested, the CO and Nx were below detectable limits. The biggest danger you have from running a modern well maintained car in a closed space is using up all the oxygen. Computer controlled fuel injection combined with catalytic converters is very effective at reducing real pollution. There’s no legitimate need for any further pollution control improvements for gasoline engines.

          Much of our power comes from natural gas which burns very clean and even newer coal plants are relatively clean. Modern scrubbers can remove most of the harmful components. If only they would stop wasting resources on useless carbon capture and focus on real pollution, coal would be even cleaner. Ironically, CO2 is not a pollutant, but is the greenest gas there is.

          • CO2 is not a pollutant
            =========
            is rain “water pollution”?
            is flooding “water pollution”?

          • co2isnotevil: ” … CO2 is not a pollutant, but is the greenest gas there is”

            I concur.

            Living plant leaves appear green because of photosynthesis, during which the plants are extracting Carbon from CO2. CO2 fuels photosynthesis. CO2 fuels green leaves. CO2 is green energy.

          • There is no such thing as perfectly clean.

            All energy sources have undesired side effects. Intelligent people know this and select that energy source that has the fewest undesired side effects.

          • “There is no such thing as perfectly clean.”

            True, but there is such a thing as clean enough and that threshold has been reached in many cases, especially with regard to modern automobiles. As far as the socialist left is concerned, they would still object even if the emissions from the tailpipe were cleaner than the air going in (which may actually be the case on some smoggy days in LA).

          • Some people won’t let something as trivial as reality get in the way of the solution they are pushing.

            It’s a lot like the left ignoring all data that gets in the way of their desire to believe that CO2 is killing us, because they want to use global warming as means of enforcing socialism on the rest of us.

            Some are so eager to push nuclear power, that they will accept any factoid that makes other power sources look bad. Truth isn’t relevant, it’s the goal that matters.

        • You are going to die from a lack of O2 years before the pollutants from your engine reach dangerous levels.

          In some cities such as Los Angeles, because of all the pollution control equipment, the air being breathed in by the car is more polluted than the air coming out the tail pipe.

          • We are discussing hydrocarbon fueled energy sources, not just cars. Cars of course contribute substantially to those non-attainment areas, as do hydrocarbon-fueled power plants.

            There are literally many hundreds of air quality non-attainment areas yet today in the United States – all due to polluting vehicles, power plants and industrial sources, from any of the regulated pollutants that I mentioned above – including Los Angeles County (for particulate, lead, and ozone).

          • What you have been trained to believe, and what is actually true do not seem to coincide.

            Two of the biggest sources of pollution in the LA region is bakeries and painters.

            Hydro-carbon cars and power plants are not the polluters that you so desperately want to believe them to be.

          • Mark,

            Don’t forget the trees! The largest source of smog in the LA Valley is the scrub pines that line the valley walls. Photographs from the turn of the 20th century show heavy smog in the LA Valley long before there were automobiles present in any number.

          • MarkW – You are the one desperate to believe your own BS that neither IC cars nor hydrocarbon power plants pollute. I have no desperation whatsoever, but I do get a real kick at watching extremists like you make fools of yourselves, when of course the rest of the world understands reality.

            Again, I invite you to conduct the same test I commended above to the other idiot:

            Go into your garagae, shut all the doors and windows, start your car, and then die. It happens every time.

          • Duane, why do you have to lie regarding what I have said. I never said cars don’t pollute. I said the level of pollution is so low that it doesn’t matter.

            Since you have felt the need to lie about what I have been saying, as far as I’m concerned you have admitted that even you know you can’t support the nonsense you have been pushing.

            If you care to argue honestly, please feel free to come again.

          • We are discussing hydrocarbon fueled energy sources, not just cars.

            Bwahahahahaha. You say this “Go into your garage, shut all the doors and windows, start your vehicle’s motor” and then when people respond to that you immediate try to shift away from the topic *you* brought up. That’s called shifting the goal posts, a tactic used by those who know they’ve been pwned at their own game.

          • Duane,
            Insulting people who are obviously better informed than you are doesn’t help your case. It only demonstrates that there’s no substance to your claims. But then again, this is the primary methodology your side uses to argue against the ground truth.

  10. What happens when a data center loses power for days from a storm in combination with a weaker grid? Do the locals have to breath diesel exhaust fumes?

  11. I don’t believe the 1.7 Gw number. First of all, to carry that amount of power would require an enormous switch yard and several extremely large transmission lines. Look at the transmission lines out of a 2 unit nuclear plant of about 2Gw for an example.

    I have seen junk like this before, in a DOE report about the electricity consumption of PCs. They just look the power supply ratings for a typical desktop PC and multiplied it by the number of PCs to determine that PCs consumed a significant fraction of all electricity generated in the USA. BS.

  12. Of course Amazon is for fossil fuels. I don’t think it’s about data centers. I’ll bet that more fossil fuels were burned delivering products to customers than powering their data centers.

  13. Eric, small clarification. The Greenpeace report indicates all 55 Virginia data centers draw 1700 MW, not one individual site. If you had to back that up at one site, it would be a very large diesel!

    • That makes a lot better sense. I was thinking that the figure about 2 orders of magnitude too large for any reasonable data centre. So dividing by 55 gets a plausible number.

  14. If UBER and LYFT really believed in fossil fuel caused warming they would demand all drivers have electric cars.

    If McDonalds really believed they would shut down dive thrus.

    If Walmart really believed they would tell folks not to drive to the stores only shop online.

    But no, none truly believe.

  15. Re: “Or is Greenpeace being unfair….”
    Greenfleece has nothing to do with ‘fairness’.
    Their focus is on scare mongering and fund raising, nothing else.

  16. I have worked on two data centers and neither one was concerned at all with “green” power. They were primarily concerned with providing uninterruptible power to their servers.
    The largest one was connected to two separate grid services in case one grid went down. If both grids went down there were seven 4500hp diesel motor/alternators designed to run in rotation of four at a time in the event of extended failure of both grids.
    If any “green” energy was used, it came via the Com Ed grids. I suppose you could say that there was “renewable” energy used due to the power conditioning utilizing lead acid batteries.

  17. I’m not against any “source of energy”. If you wanna buy renewable energy, that’s fine.

    What’s not fine is using taxpayer’s money (taken by force from me) to make your purchase less expensive…and then having to watch you bask in the penumbra of your false virtue.

  18. Note that when organisations say they are using 100% “renewable” energy, what they mean is they generate as much “renewable” energy as they use. This ignores the fact that that “renewable” energy is intermittent. So some of the time they are running on non-renewable energy and some of the time they are dumping “renewable” energy on to the grid.

  19. One of the great failing of the human mind is to see problems as binary. Yes or No. True, False. Friend, Foe. Yet this is a poor model of reality, which more often follows a rule of three. Yes, No, Maybe. True, False, Unknown. Friend, Foe, Neutral.

    An interesting application of the rule of three is that you can take 3 desirable, competing characteristic of most anything, and you will find you can have any 2 at the same time, but never all 3. So in the case of energy for example:

    – clean, cheap, reliable

    Pick any 2, you can have this. But if you want all 3, it can’t be done. Something, somewhere will defeat your attempts. You may not foresee what will go wrong, as happened with nuclear power, but it will happen. It is like trying to defy gravity.

  20. Data Centers require uninterruptible power, and the best way to get that is on-site power generation using fuel cells like those from Bloom Energy or Fuel Cell Energy Inc. They also have a much smaller footprint than other power sources. They are not necessarily renewable, because you still need natural gas as a source for the Hydrogen, although biogas (supposedly a renewable) can also be used. When you decompose CH4 you get Hydrogen and CO2, but much less than you get from conventional gas combustion. Of course fuel cell power, because of the capital costs, is more expense than grid power. But many large companies that have their own data centers are using fuel cells to power them.

    • All the big data centers have big commercial diesel generator setups with battery UPS backup to tie over until the generators are on-line. Major regional medical centers all have onsite diesel/fuel oil generator backups.
      Any data company relying on fuel cells is asking for trouble.

    • If that were true, then it should be trivial to name these companies.

      The reality is that the existing back up systems that have been perfected over the last 50 years or so are adequate, and much, much cheaper.

  21. It all boils down to the major character flaw inherent to Liberalism:

    Liberals love to be lied to. They wallow in a mud pit lies like a happy pig in a smelly stye.
    And the bigger the lies the better. They’ve become addicted to the lies to maintain their world-view, to keep reality, objectivity, and most of all the hard uncaring truth from shattering their world.

    And 100% renewable is about as Big a lie can get. 100% Renewable is a believeable lie for the Left simply because they want it to be true. Profiteer-rentseekers like Mark Jacobsen at Stanford step as junkies selling more of that lie to desparate Liberals looking for a Lie Fix, a hit on Bong of Dishonesty. Jacobsen put forth simply bad engineering lies to give them hope that it is true. And when an outside group corrected him on the record in PNAS he desparately tried to sue them to get a retraction. He understood the damage such a peer rebuttal would do to his 100% renewable lie.

    The 100% renewable lie is right up there with the CO2’s gonna wipe out the planet alarmist lie. It allows the Liberals to wallow in more lies to sustain a false world-view. Mann and the rest of his ilk are riding those climate lies for every dollars they can squeeze oit them.

    That is until reality shatters their lie. A recent example is the Mueller Report of no Russia collusion andthe Trump Campaign. The Left media and many Democrats are still living in denial after wallowing in that pig stye of collusion lies for 2 years. CNN, MSNBC, NYT, and Slate, Media Mutters, etc. They all sold that lie to millions of hyperventilating TDS-afflicted Liberals to keep ratings and circulations and eyes glued to those outlets. The subscribers were merely a junkie getting their daily fix of lies about Trump, the Republicans, and of course climate change.

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