Cloud Computing Could Eliminate a Billion Metric Tons of CO2 Emission Over the Next Four Years, and Possibly More, According to a New IDC Forecast

NEEDHAM, Mass. – A new forecast from International Data Corporation (IDC) shows that the continued adoption of cloud computing could prevent the emission of more than 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from 2021 through 2024.

The forecast uses IDC data on server distribution and cloud and on-premises software use along with third-party information on datacenter power usage, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per kilowatt-hour, and emission comparisons of cloud and non-cloud datacenters.

A key factor in reducing the CO2 emissions associated with cloud computing comes from the greater efficiency of aggregated compute resources. The emissions reductions are driven by the aggregation of computation from discrete enterprise datacenters to larger-scale centers that can more efficiently manage power capacity, optimize cooling, leverage the most power-efficient servers, and increase server utilization rates.

At the same time, the magnitude of savings changes based on the degree to which a kilowatt of power generates CO2, and this varies widely from region to region and country to country. Given this, it is not surprising that the greatest opportunity to eliminate CO2 by migrating to cloud datacenters comes in the regions with higher values of CO2 emitted per kilowatt-hour. The Asia/Pacific region, which utilizes coal for much of its’ power generation, is expected to account for more than half the CO2 emissions savings over the next four years. Meanwhile EMEA will deliver about 10% of the savings, largely due to its use of power sources with lower CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour.

While shifting to cleaner sources of energy is very important to lowering emissions, reducing wasted energy use will also play a critical role. Cloud datacenters are doing this through optimizing the physical environment and reducing the amount of energy spent to cool the datacenter environment. The goal of an efficient datacenter is to have more energy spent on running the IT equipment than cooling the environment where the equipment resides.

Another capability of cloud computing that can be used to lower CO2 emissions is the ability to shift workloads to any location around the globe. Developed to deliver IT service wherever it is needed, this capability also enables workloads to be shifted to enable greater use of renewable resources, such as wind and solar power.

IDC’s forecast includes upper and lower bounds for the estimated reduction in emissions. If the percentage of green cloud datacenters today stays where it is, just the migration to cloud itself could save 629 million metric tons over the four-year time period. If all datacenters in use in 2024 were designed for sustainability, then 1.6 billion metric tons could be saved. IDC’s projection of more than 1 billion metric tons is based on the assumption that 60% of datacenters will adopt the technology and processes underlying more sustainable “smarter” datacenters by 2024.

“The idea of ‘green IT’ has been around now for years, but the direct impact of hyperscale computing can have on CO2 emissions is getting increased notice from customers, regulators, and investors and it’s starting to factor into buying decisions,” said Cushing Anderson, program vice president at IDC. “For some, going ‘carbon neutral’ will be achieved using carbon offsets, but designing datacenters from the ground up to be carbon neutral will be the real measure of contribution. And for advanced cloud providers, matching workloads with renewable energy availability will further accelerate their sustainability goals.”

The IDC report, Worldwide CO2 Emissions Savings from Cloud Computing Forecast, 2021–2024: A First-of-Its-Kind Projection (IDC #US47426420), presents IDC’s first global forecast of CO2 emissions savings from cloud computing. The report provides annual CO2 savings on a worldwide and regional basis and estimates the annual savings for each year above the 2020 baseline. A methodology section explains how the emissions savings were calculated along with the underlying assumptions and identifies the sources of third-party data that were used in the calculations. IDC believes this is the first comprehensive study of this kind.