The study conducted by the Carbon Disclosure Project in London focussed on large IT companies in France and the UK and found that they could achieve large cost savings and carbon reductions by 2020 if they moved their IT systems to shared data networks.
Big IT companies are also the developers of cloud services and they are keen to see expansion of the services. The study follows a recent announcement that use of cloud services could triple in the next two years.
The Open Data Center Alliance, an umbrella group of more than 300 companies including global banks, released a statement last week saying they had planned to adopt cloud services much faster than thought.
Interviews done by the Carbon Disclosure Project study's authors show that blue-chip companies in the UK plan to accelerate the adoption of cloud computing from 10% to almost 70% of their information technology by 2020. The study claims that these companies could benefit from billions in savings if they do.
Cloud computing allows companies to reduce costs by buying less hardware and using servers located elsewhere to store, manage and process data.
For example by 2020, large UK companies that use cloud computing could achieve annual energy savings of £1.2 billion (€1.39 billion) and carbon reductions equivalent to the annual emissions of over 4 million passenger vehicles, the study says.
In France, where nuclear plants generate the bulk of electricity, that figure was much lower.
The most compelling argument for cloud adoption is not cost-savings or energy reductions but speeding up the time it takes for a company to start trading, investment analysts argue.
“Carbon reduction is one driver, but not the primary driver", Citigroup's Paul Stemmler said. "The primary driver is time to market. Developers used to take 45 days to get new servers, but in the internal cloud infrastructure that we operate in our own private network, it takes just a couple of minutes.”
The technology has been heralded as a panacea for business but it also has many opponents. There are concerns about privacy and security of data, and open source advocates argue it will lock users into proprietary systems and further big monopolies.
Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the computer operating system GNU, has publicly called the cloud a "trap."
In addition, in terms of cutting global emissions, the cloud's contribution may look more like a drop in the water, according to some calculations.
The EU is still haggling over whether it will commit to a 20% or 30% cut in CO2 emissions by 2020.
In addition, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency recently attempted to put any ambitions for carbon reductions into perspective.
"Some would like to see a 20% reduction and some a 30% reduction and the difference between those two emissions levels is equal to only two weeks of emissions from China", Fatih Birol said in a recent interview with EurActiv.
"This means that even though it would be a big step for the EU … it would have only limited implications on global carbon emissions trends, in the absence of other players taking similar steps", Birol said.