Technology for Good – episode 12

Welcome to episode twelve of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show we had two guests Chris Adams, and Kartik Kanakasabesan. Given the week that was in it with the Heartbleed bug, and the Samsung releases, there were plenty of stories around security and Wearables.

Here’s the stories that we discussed in the show:






Internet of Things (IoT)


Cloud computing and supply chain transparency

Supply chains? Yawn, right?

While supply chains may seem boring, they are of vital importance to organisations, and their proper management can make, or break companies.

Some recent examples of where poorly managed supply chains caused at best, serious reputational damage for companies include the Apple Computers child labour and workers suicide debacle; the Tesco horse meat scandal; and Nestlé’s palm oil problems.

What does this have to do with Cloud computing?

Well, last week, here in GreenMonk we published a ranking of cloud computing companies and their use of renewables. Greenqloud, Windows Azure, Google, SAP and Rackspace all come out of it quite well.

On the other hand, IBM and Oracle didn’t fare well in the study due to their poor commitment to renewables. But, at least they are reasonably transparent about it. Both organisations produce quite detailed corporate responsibility reports, and both report their emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project. So if you are sourcing your cloud infrastructure from Oracle or IBM, you can at least find out quite easily where the dirty energy powering your cloud is coming from.

Amazon however, does neither. It doesn’t produce any corporate responsibility reports and it doesn’t publish its emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project. This is particularly egregious given that Amazon is, by far the largest player in this market.

Amazon’s customers are taking a leap of faith by choosing Amazon to host their cloud. They have no idea where Amazon is sourcing the power to run their servers. Amazon could easily be powering their server farms using coal mined by Massey Energy, for example. Massey Energy, as well as having an appalling environmental record, is the company responsible for the 2010 West Virginia mining disaster which killed 29 miners, or Amazon could be using oil extracted from Tar sands. Or there could be worse in Amazon’s supply chain. We just don’t know, because Amazon won’t tell us.

This has got to be worrisome for Amazon’s significant customer base which includes names like Unilever, Nokia and Adobe, amongst many others. Imagine what could happen if Greenpeace found out… oh wait.

Just a couple of weeks ago US enterprise software company Infor announced at Amazon’s Summit that it plans to build it’s CloudSuite offerings entirely on Amazon’s AWS. As I tweeted last week, this is a very courageous move on Infor’s part

All the more brave given that Infor will be using Amazon to host the infrastructure of Infor’s own customer base. “Danger, Will Robinson!”

This lack of supply chain transparency is not sustainable. Amazon’s customers won’t tolerate the potential risk to their reputations and if Amazon are unwilling to be more transparent, there are plenty of other cloud providers who are.

Image credits failing_angel

Technology for Good – episode eleven

Welcome to episode eleven of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show our special guest was unable to make it due to looming deadlines, so I did the show solo. Given the week that was in it with Microsoft’s Build conference taking place, there were plenty of stories stemming from Microsoft’s various announcements, but there was also a ton of other news, as always.

Here’s the stories that I discussed in the show:







Internet of Things



Cloud computing companies ranked by their use of renewable energy

Cloud-Providers Renewables use updated

UPDATE: After publication of this post I was contacted by Rackspace who informed me that they do, in fact, publish their megawatt electricity consumption. it is contained in an investor report (PDF) published on their Investor Relations page. This shows Rackspace used just over 105mWh of electricity in 2013. This means that the 35% of Renewables figure corresponds to 36.8mWh (in fact it comes to 36,785kWh, or 0.037m kWh, as it is now represented in the chart above). Consequently, I adjusted the chart and moved Rackspace up a number of places in the rankings.

Cloud computing is booming. Cloud providers are investing billions in infrastructure to build out their data centers, but just how clean is cloud?

Given that this is the week that the IPCC’s 5th assessment report was released, I decided to do some research of my own into cloud providers. The table above is a list of the cloud computing providers I looked into, and what I found.

It is a real mixed bag but from the table you can see that Icelandic cloud provider Greenqloud comes out on top because they are using the electricity from the 100% renewable Icelandic electricity grid to power their infrastructure.

On the Windows Azure front, Microsoft announced in May of 2012 that it was going to go carbon neutral for its facilities and travel. Microsoft are now, according to the EPA, the second largest purchaser of renewable energy in the US. In 2013 they purchased 2,300m kWh which accounted for 80% of their electricity consumption. They made up the other 20% with Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). And according to Microsoft’s TJ DiCaprio, they plan to increase their renewable energy purchases from 80% to 100% in the financial year 2014.

Google claim to have been carbon neutral since 2007. Of Google’s electricity, 32% came from renewables, while the other 68% came from the purchase of RECs.

SAP purchased 391m kWh of renewable energy in 2013. This made up 43% of its total electricity consumption. SAP have since announced that they will go to powering 100% of its facilities from renewable energy in 2014.

The most recent data from IBM dates from 2012 when they purchased 764m kWh of renewable energy. This accounted for just 15% of their total consumption. In the meantime IBM have purchased cloud company Softlayer for whom no data is available, so it is unclear in what way this will have affected IBM’s position in these rankings.

The most up-to-date data on Oracle’s website is from 2011, but more recent data about their renewable energy is to be found in their 2012 disclosure to the Carbon Disclosure Project (registration required). This shows that Oracle purchased 5.4m kWh of renewable energy making up a mere 0.7% of their total consumption of 746.9m kWh in 2012.

Rackspace have no data available on their site, but in email communications with me yesterday they claim that 35% of their electricity globally is from renewable sources. They declined to say exactly how much that was (in kWh) See update above.

Amazon discloses no information whatsoever about its infrastructure apart from a claim that its Oregon and GovCloud regions are using 100% carbon free power. However, they don’t back up this claim with any evidence, they don’t disclose to the Carbon Disclosure Project, nor do they produce an annual Corporate Responsibility report.

The other three cloud providers in the list, Softlayer, GoGrid, and Bluelock have no information on their websites (that I could find), and they didn’t respond to written inquiries.

I’ll be writing a follow-up post to this in the next few days where I look into the supply chain risks of utilising cloud platforms where there is no transparency around power sourcing.

Technology for Good – episode ten

Welcome to episode ten of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show we had special guest Bill Higgins, who works on IBM’s Cloud & Smarter Infrastructure. Given the week that was in it with Google’s slashing of cloud computing pricing, and Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift, there were plenty of stories about cloud computing and social networks.

Here’s the stories that we discussed in the show:






Internet of Things


SAP to power its cloud computing infrastructure from 100% renewable energy

Wind turbine

Cloud computing is often incorrectly touted as being a green, more environmentally-friendly, computing option. This confusion occurs because people forget that while cloud computing may be more energy efficient (may be), the environmental friendliness is determined by how much carbon is produced in the generation of that energy. If a data centre is primarily powered by coal, it doesn’t matter how energy efficient it it, it will never be green.

We have mentioned that very often here on GreenMonk, as well as regularly bringing it up with cloud providers when talking to them.

One such cloud provider is SAP. Like most other cloud vendors, they’re constantly increasing their portfolio of cloud products. This has presented them with some challenges when they have to consider their carbon footprint. In its recently released 2013 Annual Report SAP admits

Energy usage in our data centers contributed to 6% of our total emissions in 2013, compared with 5% in 2012

This is going the wrong direction for a company whose stated aim is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from their operations to levels of the year 2000 by 2020.

To counter this SAP have just announced

that it will power all its data centers and facilities globally with 100 percent renewable electricity starting in 2014

This is good for SAP, obviously, as they will be reducing their environmental footprint, and also good for customers of SAP’s cloud solutions who will also get the benefit of SAP’s green investments. How are SAP achieving this goal of 100 per cent renewable energy for its data centers and facilities? A combination of generating its own electricity using solar panels in Germany and Palo Alto (<1%), purchasing renewable energy and high quality renewable energy certificates, and a €3m investment in the Livlihoods Fund.

So, how does SAP’s green credentials stack up against some of its rivals in the cloud computing space?

Well, since yesterday’s pricing announcements from Google they definitely have to be considered a contender in this space. And what are their green credentials like? Well, Google have been carbon neutral since 2007, and they have invested over $1bn in renewable energy projects. So Google are definitely out in front on this one.

Who else is there?

Well, Microsoft with its recently branded Microsoft Azure cloud offerings are also a contender, so how do they fare? Quite well actually. In May 2012, Microsoft made a commitment

to make our operations carbon neutral: to achieve net zero emissions for our data centers, software development labs, offices, and employee business air travel in over 100 countries around the world.

So by doing this 2 years ahead of SAP and by including employee air travel, as well as facilities, you’d have to say that Microsoft come out ahead of SAP.

However, SAP does come in well ahead of other cloud companies such as IBM, who reported that renewable electricity made up a mere 15% of its consumption in 2012. IBM reported emissions of 2.2m tons of CO2 in 2012.

But, at least that’s better than Oracle. In Oracle’s 2012 report (reporting on the year 2011 – the most recent report available on their site), Oracle state that they don’t even account for their scope 3 emissions:

Scope 3 GHG emissions are typically defined as indirect emissions from operations outside the direct control of the company, such as employee commutes, business travel, and supply chain operations. Oracle does not report on Scope 3 emissions

And then there’s Amazon. Amazon doesn’t release any kind of information about the carbon footprint of its facilities. None.

So kudos to SAP for taking this step to green its cloud computing fleet. Looking at the competition I’d have to say SAP comes in around middle-of-the road in terms of its green cloud credentials. If it wants to improve its ranking, it may be time to revisit that 2020 goal.

Technology for Good – episode nine

Welcome to episode nine of the Technology for Good hangout. In this week’s show we had special guest John Clark, Worldwide Manager of Smart Buildings for IBM. Given the week that was in it with Google’s announcement of Android Wear, and Twitter’s eighth birthday, there were plenty of stories about social networks, and wearable devices.

Here’s the stories that we discussed in the show:




Open Source


Internet of Things


Technology for Good – Episode seven

In episode 7 of the Technology for Good hangout we had many great news stories to cover, and some great live discussions using the comments on the event page. The links to the stories are below.

As always, if you know of any stories you think we should cover, or someone we should be talking to, feel free to get in touch (@tomraftery on Twitter, or tom at on good old-fashioned email!).

And, here as promised, are the stories which made the cut for episode 7 of the Technology for Good hangout:

Climate change – doom and gloom

And now on with the good news!!!

Smart grid and renewables

Smart health and wearables






Follow @TomRaftery

Here comes the sun… IBM and solar forecasting

Concentrating solar power array

For decades now electricity grids have been architected in the same way with large centralised generation facilities pumping out electricity to large numbers of distributed consumers. Generation has been controlled, and predictable. This model is breaking down fast.

In the last decade we have seen a massive upsurge in the amount of renewable generation making its way onto the grid. Most of this new renewable generation is coming from wind and solar. Just last year (2013), almost a third of all newly added electricity generation in the US came from solar. That’s an unprecedented number which points to a rapid move away from the old order.

This raises big challenges for the grid operators and utilities. Now they are moving to a situation where generation is variable and not very predictable. And demand is also variable and only somewhat predictable. In a situation where supply and demand are both variable, grid stability can be an issue.

To counter this, a number of strategies are being looked at including demand response (managing the demand so it more closely mirrors the supply), storage (where excess generation is stored as heat, or potential energy, and released once generation drops and/or demand increases), and better forecasting of the generation from variable suppliers.

Some of the more successful work being done on forecasting generation from renewables is being undertaken by Dr Hendrik Hamann at IBM’s TJ Watson Research Center, in New York. Specifically Dr Hamann is looking at improving the accuracy of forecasting solar power generation. Solar is extremely complex to forecast because factors such as cloud cover, cloud opacity and wind have to be taken into account.
IBM Solar Forecaster
Dr Hamann uses a deep machine learning approach to tackle the many petabytes of big data generated by satellite images, ground observations, and solar databases. The results have been enviable apparently. According to Dr. Hamann, solar forecast accuracy using this approach is 50% more accurate than the next best forecasting model. And the same approach can be used to predict rainfall, surface temperature, and wind. In the case of wind, the forecast accuracy is 35% better than the next best model.

This is still very much a research project so there is no timeline yet on when (or even if) this will become a product, but if it does, I can see it being an extremely valuable tool for solar farm operators (to avoid fines for over-production, for example), for utilities to plan power purchases, and for grid management companies for grid stability purposes.

The fact that it is a cloud delivered (pun intended, sorry) solution would mean that if IBM brings it to market it will have a reduced cost and time to delivery, bringing it potentially within reach of smaller operators. And with the increase in the number of solar operators (140,000 individual solar installations in the U.S. in 2013) on the grid, highly accurate forecasting is becoming more important by the day.

Technology for Good – episode six

In episode 6 of the Technology for Good hangout we had lots to talk about, and I had Mr Chris Adams on with me to co-host. It was, of course, the week of IBM’s Pulse conference, as well as the Mobile World Congress, so there were lots of very exciting stories in the Mobile, Internet of Things, and security spaces, amongst others. The links to the stories are below.

As always, if you know of any stories you think we should cover, or someone we should be talking to, feel free to get in touch (@tomraftery on Twitter, or tom at on good old-fashioned email!).

And, here as promised, are the stories which made the cut for episode 6 of the Technology for Good hangout:


IBM Pulse



Heavy Industry