In my family the expression "green cloud" means the release and lingering of foul-smelling flatulence. Greenpeace appears to have a similar opinion of cloud computing as it is being applied by some companies.
Last week, TMCnet editor Kelly McGuire wrote a great story on a report by Greenpeace on saying that cloud-computing-driving data centers could be dirtying up the air by relying on electricity from coal-fired plants.
Greenpeace has a point: the way coal is extracted and burned in electricity generation is not exactly clean. Yet then again there are few sources that are--yes that includes Canada's infamous tar sands-- if one looks at the options, and at the total amount of environmental damages such as from transportation and distribution that all choices incur.
Then there is the other side of the coin, which is where premise-installed computers get their power from, considering that the electrical systems are on a grid. The real interesting question is which method: cloud or premises computing is more efficient and greener including the making, shipping, and recycling computers.
Kelly's article says the Greenpeace report's analysts said the last thing the environment needs is more cloud infrastructure to be built in places where it increases demand for dirty coal-fired power.
Yet with the growing size of these data centers and the relative affordability and scalability of clean-burning natural gas-fired generators (the heat they produce can also be captured for hot water), would it be more environmentally and financially viable for the large data firms to go into the generating business, selling off excess as clean power to the grid and relying on the grid as backup?
With public resistance to large fossil-fueled plants, dams, and nuclear power stations and their consequences including ugly transmission and distribution systems i.e. NIMBYs, which some say is not exactly helping to maintain the reliability of the electrical grid that they use, such onsite power may be the way to go.