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I am wondering what are the positive as well as negative impacts on CO2 emissions from using cloud software like Google Sheets, in comparison to traditional software that run locally or on a local network (like Excel)

Are there any studies you are aware of?

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There is a 2018 study by microsoft which finds that "the Microsoft cloud is as much as 93 percent more energy efficient and as much as 98 percent more carbon efficient than on-premises solutions". The savings they are talking about come from replacing in-house servers with cloud resources.

I don't know of any studies which look at the impact of just moving your usage to cloud, but I doubt that you would have much impact on energy consumption if you do not decommission some local machines.

Beware, however, of the Jevon's Paradox which states the increased efficiency can lead to careless resource use and increase wastage.

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If using Google Sheets, you are giving Google a lot of information about you. Google can and will read all of the contents of every file you upload and use the information for advertisement targeting.

As a software developer, I'd say the majority of the processing power needed at the server side is the advertisement targeting information collection. The software itself, if you could use it without ad targeting, would require relatively little resources.

The server side of a web application can vary tremendously depending on which language they use: compiled or interpreted. So, there can be at least 10x differences in the needed server resources. I don't know what language Google Sheets is programmed in (the client side is obviously JavaScript and strictly speaking you should take into account the client-side energy consumption as well, but the server side language is unknown).

The storage part also needs some resources, but that depends on how much storage space you need. You can calculate it by figuring out the energy usage of various storage technologies.

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    It's written in Javascript, according to Wikipedia. – LShaver Dec 12 '19 at 20:21
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    That's the client side. The server side could be JavaScript (NodeJS), or something entirely different. – juhist Dec 12 '19 at 20:37
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    References please.... – Jan Doggen Dec 16 '19 at 10:17
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    I feel this answer could be improved by delving into actual emissions caused by server farms (there are various benefits to using cloud computing over say, a local office server room, but perhaps not by an excel document stored on a local, powered-down machine). – Robotnik Dec 18 '19 at 6:11
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    I suggest you add a remark to your answer to clarify that you know the client is JS but not what the server is. – PJTraill Dec 18 '19 at 14:11

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