photo by Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (Flickr Creative Commons)

Certain Internet giants were recently criticized by a Greenpeace report because they source their power from coal-fired stations. Facebook and Apple were named as guilty parties, while Google and Yahoo came out looking a bit more eco-friendly than the competition.

But cloud computing – or web-based computer use – can also generate heat and electricity. It’s all about the efficient use of energy.

From an article in Scientific American:

District cooling and heating is already a mainstay in Finland and some other Scandinavian countries, contributing to their Kyoto-required reductions in CO2. Heat gets captured and injected into water or steam. The water or steam is then run through pipes underground to supply down town areas where it gets gets used as hot water or is used to run radiators. By adding chillers and heat exchangers; the heat energy can be also be used to drive air conditioners.

Combined heat and power (CHP) is already the rage in Finland, where 29% of electricity is derived from waste heat and 74% of district heat comes from cogeneration. Most of that comes from the timber and paper industries, but recently it’s also coming from new tech projects such as data centers.

The Guardian reports:

The Finnish IT company Academica has installed a new 2MW database server centre in an empty second world war bomb shelter meant to protect city officials in the event of a Russian attack. Water warmed while cooling the servers will go on to provide heat for 500 homes or 1,000 flats in a city that often suffers winters of -20C. After the heat is extracted, the water will be recycled back to cool the servers again.

This is the kind of energy efficiency the whole world should be looking into and will eventually have to as power and fossil fuel price increase due to growing demands and diminishing resources.

So in the not too distant future you might snuggle up to Facebook or YouTube and Twitter away about how eco-friendly your dysfunctional online lifestyle has become. Even ultra-lame has-beens like Myspace and Classmates may someday generate a little warmth before they head the way of GeoCities and Angelfire.