Cloud computing must shift to using renewable energy in order to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint
Different stakeholders can take different actions based on their size and market influence.
Software Companies Who Operate Their Own Data Centers
Large players who design, build, and manage their own data centers can take direct action by increasing their efficiency and shifting to purchases and production of renewable energy. They can:
- Purchase renewable energy for direct consumption by choosing sites that produce clean energy, and leveraging power purchase agreements to increase the amount produced; and
- Design, build and operate efficient data centers.
- Both Google and Facebook have designed industry-leading efficient data centers and made significant commitments to renewable energy. According to data center efficiency measures (PUE), their data centers are 50 percent more energy efficient than the industry average.
- Google and Facebook take the top two spots for world’s largest corporate buyers of renewable energy, with Amazon and Microsoft also in the top ten.
Software Companies Who Can Directly Influence Cloud Providers
Companies who have significant computing needs and rely on cloud providers or vendors to power their business and manage data center operations can take immediate action in two ways:
- Directly influence their cloud providers to shift to renewable energy (especially effective for the largest companies); and
- Join industry coalitions (such as Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA), RE100, EP100, etc.) to increase the collective bargaining power to influence supply-chain partners, utilities, and policy makers to adopt renewable energy.
- Companies like Salesforce leverage the Corporate Colocation Buyers Principles to clean up their data centers through better procurement guidelines, information requests, and joint advocacy.
- In Virginia last spring, companies such as Akamai, Apple, LinkedIn and Salesforce signed a joint letter to Dominion (who has monopoly control of the state’s retail energy market) to advocate for investing in renewable energy and storage, instead of its current plan to build gas-fueled power plants.
Software Companies Who Rely On Cloud Providers
Startups and small companies who choose off-the-shelf cloud providers and software solutions can still have an impact by making changes now that will compound as they grow, and contributing as a larger group through collective action. They can:
- Review company reports and apply climate-impact criteria to their evaluation and communication with cloud providers and software vendors; and
- Increase their understanding by asking for more transparency from companies that don’t currently disclose or take climate action.
- In 2018, Shopify decommissioned their data servers and shifted entirely to Google Cloud, reaching carbon neutrality due to Google Cloud’s commitment to 100% renewable energy.
- Toronto-based startup Lending Loop committed to migrating their Amazon Web Services servers to 100% carbon neutral regions in 2020 and switched their transportation benefit to use Lyft which offsets their rides.
For All Software Companies
All software companies who rely heavily on computing to run their businesses can build a better understanding of the real-time energy produced where they are, and try to adjust their consumption accordingly. Specific actions will depend on the emissions factors and energy constraints of each region, but here are some ideas:
- Research the local energy system of your home office or major data center locations. In California, the California ISO publishes information on daily prices and demand.
- Match high-demand (e.g., data analysis, machine learning processes) or scheduled actions (e.g., nightly report generation, load tests) with times where clean energy is most plentiful.
- Model this understanding of real-time energy impact with company events, such as by hosting “solar-powered hackathons” where increased development and computing time is synchronized to match with clean energy availability.