The term "cloud" or "cloud computing" is based on an infrastructure or business model delivering data, entertainment, news and other products and services directly in realtime from the internet to the device. Data does not have to be stored on your own computer anymore, instead it can be retrieved from everywhere with a internet connection.
Google is probably the most famous example for an organization building in the clouds. The most known services by Google - such as Google Mail, Google Documents and Google Earth - are supplied from a cloud.
The cloud is growing at a time when everyone is talking about climate change and reducing emissions and also contributing to an increase in energy consumption. When the cloud grows and more and more data is being saved in the cloud, the energy consumption of the cloud grows as well. All the data that is being shown in realtime, virtual mountains of videos, pictures and other data have to be saved somewhere and also have to be available immediately. The "somewhere" are data centers - huge facitities saving data and eating big amounts of power. The ones making decisions on how the clouds are built rather care for making even higher profits, instead of taking care of reducing emissions or stopping the climate change.
Facebook for example gets its power from a supplier who gets most of his energy from coal power stations. These are the biggest source for greenhous gas in the US (Facebook group that wants Facebook to use renewable energies: http://www.greenpeace.org/coalfacebook). Yahoo! on the other hand has its own data center, powered by hydroelectricity, which reduces the carbon footprint.
Despite the economic crisis the cloud computing industry is growing. The data centers of the industry leaders are growing in number and in size. How much electricity is needed for cloud computing every year is not clear. It is also not clear, how much more electricity will be used during the next years.
At the moment, more and more companies in the cloud computing business are trying to reduce the energy consumption of their data centers - mainly to reduce costs. For most companies, the ecological advantages are of secondary concern.
If cloud suppliers really want to offer green and renewable clouds they will have to use their power and influence to make more investments in renewable energies possible and also promote laws associated with it. Also, we need much more investments in research and development of storage media.
Greenpeace started its “Cool IT Campaign” in 2009. With the help of dedicated companies and also the public, the campaign tries to put pressure on the information and communication technology (ICT) industry, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, Greenpeace supports a policy that combats the climate change and increases the use of renewable energies.
It will take a while, until cloud computing becomes totally green. Until then, the advertising of cloud suppliers stays greenwashing (with a few exceptions)...