Cloud computing is more efficient than running an on-premises data center for many reasons, some of which are outlined in earlier posts of this series. There are operational benefits that come from moving to the cloud beyond the environmental ones. But is a cloud migration a way to help an institution meet sustainability and renewable energy goals? The responses may vary by cloud provider or even by data center, but in many scenarios the answer is yes.
In most cases, the power used at the data center will have a higher mix of renewable energy sources than the local grid. Some colleges and universities procure a higher percentage of renewable energy, but the scale of these data centers may give the hosting companies an advantage when purchasing renewable energy. We should also point out that purchasing renewable energy is different than Renewable Energy Certificates/Credits (RECs). Many data centers are still powered by fossil fuels, but they buy credits for an equivalent amount of renewable energy. This is a good first step but is not the same as truly being powered by carbon free energy. We will examine the four most prominent cloud infrastructure providers in the higher education arena: Microsoft Azure, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, Google Cloud, and Amazon Web Services.
The company has been carbon neutral since 2012 and has announced aggressive targets for sustainability, like being fully carbon negative by 2030 including supply chain. They have innovative programs to encourage emissions reductions, such as an internal carbon tax which applies to Azure data centers and services. They expect to use 100% renewable energy for all operations including data centers by 2025 (currently using over 60% renewable energy). Some data centers are already at 100% renewable energy, including all Virginia locations.
More information about Microsoft’s sustainability practices:
Resources for customers:
- Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability: Embowering organizations on their path to net zero
- Cloud Carbon Study
Oracle publishes a Clean Cloud Datasheet showing the Renewable Energy percentage, Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), and relevant certifications. In year 2020, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) used 55% renewable energy worldwide. The specific percentage of renewable energy varies greatly by data center, with all European locations being 100% renewable. Two North American locations have reached 100% renewable, but all others are between 5% and 16%. They expect to use 100% renewable energy for Oracle Cloud by 2025.
More information about Oracle’s sustainability practices:
Google has been carbon neutral since 2007 and purchases enough renewable energy to account for 100% of operations worldwide. They have ambitious plans to use Carbon Free Energy (CFE) for all operations measured on an hourly basis by 2030. Google has begun publishing CFE information about each data center region in map form for quick review with detailed hourly data available to developers on GitHub. Customers have the ability to run applications in a lower carbon location and create rules to keep data and workloads in lower carbon regions.
More information about Google’s sustainability practices:
- Carbon free energy for Google Cloud regions
- How carbon-free is your cloud? new data lets you know
- We now do more computing where there’s cleaner energy
Amazon Web Services
Amazon does not provide much data about AWS separate from the full company with few details on specific data centers and regions. They do have information about renewable energy projects company wide. This includes everything from a grid-scale wind farm dedicated to a specific data center to solar panels on the roof of a Whole Foods Market. They report that in 2020, 65% of all power used for all Amazon businesses was renewable, with a goal of 100% renewable by 2025.
AWS provided this high-level statement, “AWS purchases and retires environmental attributes, like Renewable Energy Credits and Guarantees of Origin, to cover the non-renewable energy we use in these regions:
- S. West (Oregon)
- GovCloud (U.S. West)
- Europe (Frankfurt)
- Canada (Central)
- Europe (Ireland)
More information about Amazon’s sustainability practices:
- Simple extension lets you see AWS cloud service regions are sustainable
- Cloud computing, Server Utilization, & the Environment
There are numerous factors to consider when selecting a cloud infrastructure provider. The good news is that all of the companies listed here have made significant progress and near-term future commitments to providing a sustainable cloud. SIG helps clients every day with their cloud migration and management needs.