How Close are we to a Green Cloud?
Climate change is one of the hottest topics of discussion today, with many people for and against this idea. Though this debate rages on, the fact is we continue to use non-renewable sources of energy like coal to power our homes, businesses, and data centers. This is not sustainable for many reasons, the primary of which are these sources of fuel will dry out one day, and its extraction process has a definite impact on the surrounding environment. To avoid the hassles that come with this form of energy, many companies are striving to switch to renewable sources of energy like the sun and wind. Cloud companies are not to be left behind in this quest to move to green energy.
Amazon Web Services, the leading provider of cloud services, has opined that one day it’ll shift completely to renewable sources of energy, but it has not been too specific on the time line. This could be partly why it’s lagging behind in adopting green energy when compared to that of its competitors. A report by Greenpeace shows that only 17 percent of energy used by AWS is clean energy, while 30 percent of its energy consumption comes from coal and another 24 percent comes from natural gas. Out of the remaining, 26 percent comes from nuclear and the remaining three comes from other sources. These numbers are surprising considering that AWS has been a vociferous supporter of green energy, and it is also expected to take the lead in this regard because it’s the most dominant player in the cloud market today.
In contrast, Apple uses renewable energy for more than 83 percent of its operations. The remaining comes from coal (five percent), natural gas (four percent), nuclear (five percent), and others (three percent). Surprisingly, other major cloud players also fare better than AWS when it comes to green energy usage. For Google, 56 percent of its energy consumption comes from clean sources, 15 percent from coal, 14 percent from natural gas, 10 percent from nuclear, and five percent from other sources respectively. Likewise, 32 percent of Microsoft’s data centers are powered by clean energy that include renewable as well as large hydroelectric projects, 31 percent from coal, 23 percent from natural gas, 10 percent from nuclear, and four percent from other sources respectively.
Given these numbers, are we close to a green cloud? Not really, simply because AWS is the largest provider, and this company uses less than one-fifth of clean energy for its data centers. Hopefully, there’ll be a greater impetus from AWS in this area, especially after the many public announcements it has made to move to clean energy. The heartening news however is that other companies are moving farther along, and this is good for the industry as a whole.
In short, it may take a few more years, say around five years, for the cloud industry to transition to a green cloud model. Until then, we’ll have to live with the fact that our digital footprint is having an impact on the environment in a negative way.