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Carbon Disclosure Project’s emissions reduction claims for cloud computing are flawed

data center
The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is a not-for-profit organisation which takes in greenhouse gas emissions, water use and climate change strategy data from thousands of organisations globally. This data is voluntarily disclosed by these organisations and is CDP’s lifeblood.

Yesterday the CDP launched a new study Cloud Computing – The IT Solution for the 21st Century a very interesting report which

delves into the advantages and potential barriers to cloud computing adoption and gives insights from the multi-national firms that were interviewed

The study, produced by Verdantix, looks great on the surface. They have talked to 11 global firms that have been using cloud computing for over two years and they have lots of data on the financial savings made possible by cloud computing. There is even reference to other advantages of cloud computing – reduced time to market, capex to opex, flexibility, automation, etc.

However, when the report starts to reference the carbon reductions potential of cloud computing it makes a fundamental error. One which is highlighted by CDP Executive Chair Paul Dickinson in the Foreword when he says

allowing companies to maximize performance, drive down costs, reduce inefficiency and minimize energy use – and therefore carbon emissions

[Emphasis added]

The mistake here is presuming a direct relationship between energy and carbon emissions. While this might seem like a logical assumption, it is not necessarily valid.

If I have a company whose energy retailer is selling me power generated primarily by nuclear or renewable sources for example, and I move my applications to a cloud provider whose power comes mostly from coal, then the move to cloud computing will increase, not decrease, my carbon emissions.

The report goes on to make some very aggressive claims about the carbon reduction potential of cloud computing. In the executive summary, it claims:

US businesses with annual revenues of more than $1 billion can cut CO2 emissions by 85.7 million metric tons annually by 2020


A typical food & beverage firm transitioning its human resources (HR) application from dedicated IT to a public cloud can reduce CO2 emissions by 30,000 metric tons over five years

But because these are founded on an invalid premise, the report could just as easily have claimed:

SAP’s Palo Alto energy efficiency and CO2 reductions

Cisco Telepresence

As mentioned previously, I was in Santa Clara and Palo Alto last week for a couple of SAP events.

At these events SAP shared some of its carbon reduction policies and strategies.

According to SAP Chief Sustainability Officer Peter Graf, the greatest bang for buck SAP is achieving comes from the deployment of telepresence suites. With video conferencing technologies SAP is saving €655 per ton of CO2 saved. This is hardly surprising given Cisco themselves claim to have saved $790m in travel expenditure from their telepresence deployments!

Other initiatives SAP mentioned were the installation of 650 solar panels on the roof of building 2 which provides for around 5-6% of SAP’s Palo Alto energy needs. This means that on sunny days, the SAP Palo Alto data centre can go completely off-grid. The power from the solar panels is not converted to AC at any point – instead it is fed directly into the data centre as DC – thereby avoiding the normal losses incurred in the conversion from DC->AC->DC for computer equipment. Partnerships with OSISoft and Sentilla ensure that their data centre runs at optimum efficiency.

SAP also rolled out 337 LED lighting systems. These replaced fluorescent lighting tubes and because the replacement LED lights are extremely long-life, as well as low energy, there are savings on maintenance as well as electricity consumption.

Coulomb electric vehicle charging station at SAP HQ in Palo Alto

SAP has placed 16 Coulomb level two electric vehicle charging stations around the car parks in its facility. These will allow employees who purchase electric vehicles to charge their cars free of charge (no pun!) while they are at work. SAP has committed to going guarantor on leases for any employees who plan to purchase electric vehicles. We were told to watch out for a big announcement from SAP in January in the electric vehicle space!

Energy efficient supercomputers from IBM!

Photo credit Argonne National Laboratory

Supercomputers are particularly fast computers (often made up of thousands of “off the shelf” computers) typically used for highly calculation-intensive tasks such as climate research, molecular modelling, research into nuclear fusion, etc.

The Green 500 is a ranking of the most energy efficient supercomputers measured in Floating Point Operations per second/Watt (MFLOP/Watt). In the latest Supercomputing Green 500 List, a Q prototype of IBM’s next Blue Gene supercomputer came in at 1st place on the list.

What is most striking though is the margin by which the IBM solution took the first place…