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

US businesses with annual revenues of more than $1 billion can increase 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 increase CO2 emissions by 30,000 metric tons over five years

This wouldn’t be an issue if the cloud computing providers disclosed their energy consumption and emissions information (something that the CDP should be agitating for anyway).

In fairness to the CDP, they do refer to this issue in a sidebar on a page of graphs when they say:

Two elements to be considered in evaluating the carbon impact of the cloud computing strategies of specific firms are the source of the energy being used to power the data center and energy efficiency efforts.

However, while this could be taken to imply that the CDP have taken data centers’ energy sources into account in their calculations, they have not. Instead they rely on models extrapolating from US datacenter PUE information [PDF] published by the EPA. Unfortunately the PUE metric which the EPA used, is itself controversial.

For a data centric organisation like the CDP to come out with baseless claims of carbon reduction benefits from cloud computing may be at least partly explained by the fact that the expert interviews carried out for the report were with HP, IBM, AT&T and CloudApps – all of whom are cloud computing vendors.

The main problem though, is that cloud computing providers still don’t publish their energy and emissions data. This is an issue I have highlighted on this blog many times in the last three years and until cloud providers become fully transparent with their energy and emissions information, it won’t be possible to state definitively that cloud computing can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo credit Tom Raftery


How long until all devices which consume water have networked flow meters?


Photo credit bmitchellw

Oracle published the results of a very interesting study recently called Testing the Water: Smart Metering for Water Utilities.

Now, we have all heard about the compelling case for Smart Meters for electrical consumption (I have written and spoken about it extensively) but in this study Oracle asked utilities and their customers about the benefits of rolling out Smart Meters for managing water consumption.

Part of the reason for undertaking this study was that water shortages are already being seen in the South East United States, Western Canada, and Southern California.

In fact, according to the EPA’s WaterSense site:

  • At least 36 states are projecting water shortages between now and 2013.
  • Each American uses an average of 100 gallons of water a day at home.
  • Approximately 5 to 10 percent of American homes have water leaks that drip away 90 gallons a day or more! Many of these leaks reside in old fixtures such as leaky toilets and faucets. If the 5 percent of American homes that leak the most corrected those leaks?it could save more than 177 billion gallons of water annually!
  • The average [US] household spends as much as $500 per year on their water and sewer bill and can save about $170 per year by installing water-efficient fixtures and appliances.

Some of the results of the Oracle water study show that:

  • 68% of water utility managers believe it is critical that water utilities adopt smart meter technologies
  • 76% of consumers are concerned about the need to conserve water in their community
  • 69% of consumers believe they could reduce their personal water use
  • 71% of consumers believe receiving more detailed information on their water consumption would encourage them to take steps to lower their water use
  • 83% of water utilities who have completed a cost- benefit analysis support the adoption of smart meter technology

So, the public is concerned about water conservation and believes that more information would help them reduce their consumption of water. The majority of utility managers also believe smart meter technologies are critical, so things are looking rosy so far.

The data output from smart electricity meters is extremely granular and yields very specific energy footprints. With this data it is trivial to identify the devices using the energy down to make and model of the machine. However, this is not the case for smart water meters. Their output is far less granular – it will be quite difficult to map water consumption data from smart meters to individual devices within the house (unless there are flow meters attached to all the devices using water, for example).

What if though, you could tie-in the output of your electrical smart meter and your water smart meters? Analysing the data from the two meters it should be possible to identify at least some of the devices using water (fridge, dish washer, electric shower, etc.). Having this information tied-in to make and model of device would be extremely useful to help identify more water efficient appliances.

Because, for the most part, your water and electricity utilities are separate companies (or different business units within a utility), this is not a solution they are likely to pursue. However, there has been a surge in the number of 3rd party companies working on Home Management Software applications/devices.

Most recently we’ve seen that Apple are looking into the home energy management space, but others big names already involved include Google, Microsoft, Intel and Panasonic to name but a few.

With consumer’s actively interested in receiving more information about their energy and water usage and with the value that this data has, it is a no-brainer that Home Management Software will manage water consumption as well as energy in time.

How long before it is mandatory that all devices which consume water have networked flow meters and all homes have smart water meters?