Home → Magazine Archive → February 2021 (Vol. 64, No. 2) → Driving the Cloud to True Zero Carbon → Abstract

Driving the Cloud to True Zero Carbon

By Andrew A. Chien

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 64 No. 2, Page 5

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The right vision is to operate the cloud with zero-carbon emission from power (scope 2). Not just offsetting through renewable energy purchases. Not just 24x7 matching. True zero carbon in electric power consumed, and with no increase as the cloud continues to grow. That's the right vision for our proud computing technology community to lead the fight against climate change, and to see increasing use of computing as a positive force to slow climate change.a,b

Why must we act? The power grid is decarbonizing, but progress is slow. Aggressive states (for example, California and New York) have zero-carbon goals 20 or more years in the future, 2045 and 2040. Nationally, the U.S. produced 19% of its electric power from renewable resources (2020), and with "datacenter alley" reporting 12% renewablesc (Northern Virginia). This trails the world's 26% renewables today, and U.S. renewables are projected to double to 38% by 2050. At that rate, full decarbonization may be a century away!d Substantial progress toward zero carbon in the next 10 years depends on aggressive action, cloud computing cannot just depend on power grid decarbonization.


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