Greenpeace is calling on the increasingly cloud-based IT world to make its energy sources as smart as its technologies. In a new report, How Clean Is Your Cloud? the organization takes a grounded look at the cloud phenomenon, offers suggestions for improvement and calls out the worst offenders as well as sector leaders.
Apple, Amazon and Microsoft each received a thumbs-down, as theyre all rapidly expanding without adequate regard to source of electricity and rely heavily on dirty energy to power their clouds, reports Greenpeace.
Yahoo and Google, on the other hand, continue to lead the sector in prioritizing access to renewable energy in their cloud expansion, and both have become more active in supporting policies to drive greater renewable energy investment.
Facebook, supporting and storing the data of more than 800 million users, was also acknowledged for its efforts; its newest data center in Sweden can be fully powered by renewable energy.
Akami, an Internet content-delivery service responsible for carrying what Greenpeace called a tremendous amount of Internet traffic, was also applauded. Its the first company to begin reporting its carbon intensity under a new carbon usage effectiveness (CUE) standard.
According to the report, the cloud is expected to usher in a fiftyfold increase in the amount of digital information by 2020 and half a trillion dollars in investment in 2013. Explaining that data centers, many of which can be seen from space, are the engines that drive the cloud, Greenpeace characterizes them as the factories of the 21st century information age.
Some Companies Are Attaching Their Facilities to Dirty Energy Sources
Some data centers, it adds, consume the equivalent of nearly 180,000 homes.
While awareness is growing about the issue, many IT companies are simply choosing to attach their modern information factories to some of the dirtiest sources of electricity, supplied by some of the dirtiest utilities on the planet, states the report.
In India, for example, a booming telecom market is attracting big investors and hurrying new players to launch services. Of Indias existing 400,000 mobile towers, more than 70 percent are in rural or semi-rural areas where grid-connected electricity is not reliable or not available.
As a result, mobile towers and, increasingly, grid-connected towers in these areas rely on diesel generators to power their network operations, states the report. The consumption of diesel by the telecoms sector currently stands at a staggering 3 billion liters annuallysecond only to the railways in India.
Telecoms and major companies leading such network expansion in developing markets, said Greenpeace, must choose solar power to begin the transition to a clean energy-powered network ¦ instead of repeating the centralized dirty energy production model of the developed world.
Greenpeace also calls for greater transparency. With only Akami revealing CUE scores, many companies instead like to point to their power usage effectiveness (PUE), a metric that doesnt truly speak to a data centers performance or resource consumption. For the most part, this practice is motivated by businesses not wanting its competitors to have insight into the scale of their infrastructure, their performance or their cost structure.
Google, Akami, Salesforce, Yahoo and Rackspace are all beginning to reveal more meaningful consumption and carbon-performance data associated with their clouds, but these are thus far exceptions, said Greenpeace.
While only Akami received an A rating for Energy Transparency, in a scorecard of 14 major players, Amazon and Twitter received Fs. Google received the only A under a Renewables & Advocacy section, and the nicest report card overall, with an A, two Bs and a C.
Under Infrastructure Siting, another area for industry improvement, the highest grades, two Bs, went to Facebook and Yahoo.
Renewable electricity procurement options for a data center operator are hugely dependent upon the location of the data center and its proximity to renewable energy-generation capacity, Greenpeace explains. This is justification for a strong infrastructure-siting policy. Strategic infrastructure siting allows IT companies to buy clean energy directly from the local grid.
Finally, companies also need to be industry leaders and advocates for clean energy, says Greenpeace.
They can do this by helping to bring more renewable energy online through purchase power, investment and advocacy, it explains, yet few companies have demonstrated the bold leadership necessary to ensure that ITs rampant growth will be sustained by clean energy sources.