Cloud computing and climate change

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The Independent Online

Just days before Apple's iPad hits the market, Greenpeace has released a report looking at the impact of cloud computing and devices that rely on it to access online services such as social networks and video streaming. "Make IT Green," published March 30, estimates that the energy consumption of cloud computing will triple by 2020 if left unchecked and calls on tech companies to work toward new energy solutions.

Greenpeace says that it is not "picking on Apple," but that "while we marvel at the sleek unpolluted design of the iPad, we need to think about where this is all leading." It points to the use of dirty energy in the IT sector, namely by Facebook, which recently announced the construction of a data center that will run primarily on coal.

The report finds that at current growth rates, data centers and telecommunication networks, the two key components of the "cloud," will consume about 1,963 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2020, more than triple their current consumption and over half the current electricity consumption of the United States - or more than France, Germany, Canada, and Brazil combined.

Critics argue that Greenpeace's report is misleading in its urgency, underplaying the small proportion of carbon emissions produced by the cloud computing industry.

Alex Steffen at Worldchanging ( notes: "Sounds scary, right? Except when you actually look up the numbers. ...The global IT industry as a whole generates about 2% of global CO2 emissions," a number he cites from the UK's Times Online. Steffen argues that targeting trendy techologies "may pull hits," but "If Greenpeace really wants to get up in people's grill about something that needs to change, it should start with their cars."

However dire the threat, Greenpeace does suggest solutions. The report calls on IT companies to support government policies that give priority grid access for renewable sources of energy, increase the supply of zero carbon energy sources such as wind and solar, and aim to reduce emissions to near zero by 2050.

The full study: