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.
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.