This week, Environmental Leader reported on how companies can compare the carbon emissions across their entire cloud ecosystem. This can help companies better manage cloud services by deciding when to use cloud services versus on-premise computing. Because cloud computing can serve more customers and offer better economies of scale, the cloud is very often more energy efficient than on-premise computing. The article mentions a recent study with WSP Environment & Energy that looked at server carbon emissions for small and medium businesses, which recalls a similar study that we at Microsoft did in partnership with WSP in 2010. That study found that businesses that run business applications in the cloud can reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions by at least 30 percent compared to running the same applications on their own infrastructure.
Of course, not only is cloud computing very often more efficient to operate, but cloud-supported Big Data has the potential to yield new insights about clean energy investment. For example, Greentech Media reported on a new mapping tool, the Los Angeles Solar and Energy Report (LASER), which may help businesses in Los Angeles identify new opportunities for clean energy investment. Co-sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and UCLA, the tool is able to create heat maps, allowing users to identify and quantify solar and energy efficiency investments throughout the city. Through these heat maps, users can also view how different parts of the city are well suited to different kinds of clean energy investments. But here is where the business incentive comes in: the mapping tool then breaks out solar capacity by different kinds of roof space. That means that different kinds of businesses can target their customers more efficiently by zoning in on the most densely populated area based on a business’s specific computer. The LASER project is a great case study in how advances in technology can lead to more sustainable development in very concrete terms—by putting new renewable energy in the neighborhoods that will benefit from it most.