Greenpeace: Cloud Computing Threatens Planet

The growing demand for cloud computing, as offered by major tech companies like Apple and Google, may be indirectly harming the environment by increasing demand for fossil fuels and nuclear power.

This is the finding of a report by the environmental pressure group Greenpeace.

facebook prineville data center greenpeace

image via Facebook

According to the report [PDF], there is growing split within the tech industry between companies who are powering their clouds with green energy and those who have yet to make the switch.

Cloud computing is the name for the method by which Internet users can store and share data—such as photos, music and documents—online instead of using software or storage on a local computer.

Users’ data is held in a growing fleet of data centers around the world.

As more people around the world use the cloud to store and share information, tech companies have to build more data centers.

To cope with the spiraling demand some of these centers have grown huge—some so large they are visible from space. Needless to say, the centers consume massive amounts of electricity, as much as 250,000 European homes in some cases. In fact, the report said that if the cloud were a country its electricity demand would currently rank fifth in the world, and is expected to triple by 2020.

Greenpeace investigated over 80 such center belonging to 14 different tech firms to find out how they sourced their electricity.

According to their findings, companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook were leading the sector by prioritizing renewable energy access when siting their data centers, and demanding better energy options from utilities and government decision-makers.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.


  • Reply April 20, 2012

    Craig Hill

    More reason to build equally huge wind and solar facilities.  There’s still going to be enough of both to eventually blow coal away.  Use the lemon of cloud computing to generate lots more renewable lemonade.

  • Energy alternatives like solar and windmill farm will definitely help, even though energy from such kind of natural resources will help data centers to cut down their overall expenses on electricity.

    According to my knowledge Oracle already using windmill farm energy for their data center. Yahoo and Dell also using hydro power. So I think Greenpeace is just over-reacting on this issue.

    Paul Lopez

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