Greenpeace questions the green in clouds

A new report examines how green cloud providers’ data centers are.

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  1. Amazon, Apple and Microsoft (three of the largest in the report) are rapidly expanding yet paying little attention to source of electricity and are relying heavily on dirty energy (dirty energy like coal and nuclear power) to power their clouds.
  2. Yahoo and Google lead in prioritizing access to renewable energy in their cloud expansion.
  3. Facebook has now committed to power its platform with renewable energy, a strategy that began in earnest with the construction of its latest data center in Sweden, which can be fully powered by renewable energy.
  4. A growing concentration of data center investments in key locations is having a significant impact on energy demand and how the electricity grid is managed; if such concentrated expansion is allowed to continue, this will make it increasingly difficult to shift these investments and the surrounding community away from dirty sources of electricity.
  5. Akamai is the first IT company to begin reporting its carbon intensity under the new Carbon Utilization Effectiveness (CUE) standard (Greenpreace reports that most others have been noticeably silent about CUE).
  6. There have been increasing attempts by some companies to portray the cloud as inherently “green,” despite a continued lack of transparency and very poor metrics for measuring performance or actual environmental impact.
  7. Collaboration and open source sharing of best practices in both hardware and software design among IT leaders is helping accelerate improvement and deployment of energy efficient IT design.
  8. Signs are increasing that more IT companies are beginning to take a proactive approach in ensuring their energy demand can be met with available renewable sources of electricity, and will increasingly play a role in shaping our energy future.

Apple got the most attention, and it wasn’t flattering. The company’s score on the Clean Energy Index was a paltry 15.3 percent (for the record, others had lower scores, including Amazon, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and Salesforce.com), but had the highest usage of coal at 55.1 percent. Apple got a D for energy transparency, an F for infrastructure siting, and Ds for energy efficiency & greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation and renewables & advocacy. Greenpeace also picked apart Apple’s new data center in North Carolina. Apple is supposedly adding solar power to that data center, which I’ve written about here.

According to Greenpeace, this North Carolina data center in North Carolina will only get 20 megawatts of energy from solar and another 5 from a fuel cell operation – a fraction of the power consumption at the site.

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