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|1. What is the cloud and what is it used for?|
“The cloud” is a term that refers to the computing infrastructure that collectively comprises the Internet. It is a network of data warehouses that store and process information. The cloud allows any internet user to access files stored there with ease and convenience, from any compatible device. With more than 3 billion internet users, the network of servers and data centers that make up the cloud is vast and rapidly growing.
|2. Why are you targeting Amazon/AWS?|
Amazon Inc.’s cloud computing branch, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the single largest provider of cloud services, and it is growing quickly. Its data centers consume massive amounts of energy, most of which comes from non-renewable sources like coal, gas, or nuclear. While Amazon has not disclosed how much energy it consumes, unlike thousands of other companies, Greenpeace estimated that Amazon's data centers have a combined capacity of 747 MW. That means that at full capacity Amazon data centers could be burning more than 6.5 million MWh per year — or enough to power 600,000 average US households.
Unlike its competitors, Amazon has not made transparent commitments to switch to renewable energy sources. With more than 3 billion Internet users worldwide, demand for cloud computing is growing rapidly, and Amazon has a critical role to play. Now is the time for AWS to build a greener, cleaner cloud—powered by renewable energy.
|3. What do you want AWS to do?|
We are calling on AWS to commit to 1) increasing the share of renewable energy powering data centers to 100% by 2020, and cease the construction of new data centers that rely on coal-fired power, 2) Submit complete and accurate data to the Carbon Disclosure Project, 3) Issue an annual sustainability report following Global Reporting Initiative Guidelines.
|4. How much electricity does the cloud use?|
Researchers at Greenpeace estimate that if the cloud were a country it would be one of the biggest consumers of electricity on the planet—sixth in fact, after Russia, and before Germany. In 2012, analysts at the New York Times estimated that cloud computing consumed 30 billion watts of power per year, or as much as can be produced by 30 nuclear power plants. In another estimate, researchers found that it takes 34 power plants, each producing 500 megawatts, to run all of the data centers currently in operation. In 2020, projections say that the US will need another 17 plants to meet the increase in demand.
AWS owns and operates a crucial piece of the digital economy, which uses a tenth of the world’s electricity each year. Simply put, it takes a lot of power to keep the cloud running.
|5. How does my Internet use affect the climate?|
In short, when you turn on your laptop and connect to the Internet, you may think you’re only using electricity to power your computer. But information on the Internet is stored physically on servers, which also require electricity. These servers run on a mix of power sources, including coal, natural gas, nuclear, and/or renewable energy like solar and wind. The breakdown depends on the company that owns the servers. Servers run 24/7 so that users can access their data at all times.
We know that as a result of burning fossil fuels to power human activities, the average global temperature is increasing. While climate change can have widely varying implications depending on the region, it’s clear that continued use of dirty energy exacerbates the problem. Until we pressure AWS to make a stronger commitment to using renewables, each time you open a site hosted by AWS, you’re promoting the use of coal-fired power.
|6. Where can I find a list of websites hosted by Amazon?|
A list of AWS clients, including businesses, governments, federal agencies and universities can be found here.
|7. How does AWS compare to its competitors?|
Despite its size and financial resources, AWS lags behind every other major company that operates data centers on a large scale. Unlike Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, Amazon has disclosed virtually no information about its energy use and its impacts on the climate, and it’s easy to understand why. While Google and Apple have committed to running on 100% renewables and are happy to flaunt their progress to the public, Amazon has done little more than state a goal of moving to renewables, with no plan or timeline for doing so. Google has invested over $2 billion in various renewable energy projects, while Amazon has remained silent about where its electricity comes from. Spoiler alert: it’s because not very much of it likely comes from clean, renewable sources like wind or solar.
|8. What sustainability policies do Amazon and AWS currently have in place?|
Amazon has a few sustainability policies open to public view, and primarily focuses its efforts on reducing waste in its packaging processes. While it is certainly good to reduce the use of cardboard and Styrofoam packaging materials, it is little more than Amazon grabbing its low-hanging fruit. AWS has expressed a commitment to renewable energy, but still has yet to disclose a pathway or a timeline for reaching this goal. The coal needed to keep AWS’s servers running is far more harmful to the environment than packaging, and we’re calling on Amazon to address this fact.
|9. What has AWS done so far?|
AWS has announced a partnership with the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) through which it plans to “increase its work with state and federal policymakers and stakeholders to advance renewable energy opportunities for cloud providers.” It also recently announced its involvement in the construction of a 150 MW wind farm in Indiana that would provide renewable electricity to present and future AWS data centers. While these are both welcome developments, AWS has yet to address the dirty energy powering the majority of its servers, including the coal-heavy US East region. In Virginia, for example, where more than half of US internet traffic passes through, Amazon purchases electricity that is up to 97% coal-powered.
|10. What are some green alternatives to AWS?|
There are a number of companies that provide data services powered with renewable energy. You can find a few here.
|11. I thought cloud computing saved energy?|
The short answer is that it does. Before cloud technology, businesses and organizations that wanted to store their data needed to do it themselves, usually at their own location. Cloud computing allows anyone to access their data remotely and securely at a facility operated by a company like AWS. The real issue at hand is how we choose to move forward. AWS stands out amongst its competitors in that it has not addressed its continued use of dirty energy. Instead of just using less coal-fired power, AWS should be focused on using more renewable energy as it seeks to provide more reliable and innovative services to its clients.
|12. Where can I learn more?|