The report, How Dirty is Your Data?, compares energy choices made by Apple, Google, Facebook, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, Amazon.com and Akamai – described by Greenpeace as ten of the top “global cloud companies”.
The report found that the internet’s data centers cluster in locations that offer cheap and often “dirty” electricity, along with strong tax incentives. The IT sector is largely ignoring renewable energy, and is fueling its expansion with coal and nuclear, the report said.
“The IT industry points to cloud computing as the new, green model for our IT infrastructure needs, but few companies provide data that would allow us to objectively evaluate these claims,” Greenpeace said.
The Greenpeace report uses the term “cloud” to describe “energy and resources used broadly with online services,” and “a type of IT computing services for hire within the online ecosystem”.
But this definition is more broad than that often used by green IT professionals. In those circles, “cloud computing” usually refers to the use of scalable and virtualized resources.
It is often associated with a pay-as-you-go model that allows users to take up only as much server space as they need, and ramp up or down in real time. This means that instead of running a bank of servers or storage units, only some of which is used at a given time, companies can pay for virtualized services with a much smaller carbon footprint.
In December, Pike Research reported that the adoption of cloud computing will lead to a 31 percent drop in data center energy consumption between 2010 and 2020. Intel recently reported that it plans to save $25 billion by 2015 through energy-efficient IT initiatives, including the use of cloud computing.
In its report, Greenpeace said that Apple’s $1 billion iData Center in North Carolina, expected to open this spring, will consume as much as 100 MW of electricity, or the equivalent of 80,000 U.S. homes. The energy grid in that area derives uses less than five percent clean energy, Greenpeace said. (The organization considers nuclear a “dirty, dangerous” energy source.)
On the other hand, Greenpeace said that both Yahoo! and Google are taking positive steps to improve the impact of their energy supply. Yahoo! sites most of its data centers near renewable power sources, and Google is making direct investments in and signing power purchase agreements with renewable power projects including wind and solar.
Facebook, which has been the subject of an ongoing Greenpeace campaign, is on track to be the cloud company most dependent on coal-powered electricity, the report said. Over 53 percent of Facebook facilities rely on coal, Greenpeace added.