Data centres around the world that are necessary for the internet, use up extremely large amounts of power and electricity while also emitting a great deal of CO2 into the atmosphere. The amount of CO2 emitted is on the same level as the amounts emitted due to the airline industry. As a result, data centres have to look at finding clean sources of energy and ways in which they can increase overall efficiency.
The place where most people and organisations store their data is known as the cloud. We also use it to stream movies, store important documents and data, email etc. This cloud, while it may seem immaterial, is actually physical. It is in the form of large data centres around the world which is having a negative impact on the earth.
In this digital age, data centres and comms room services can be compared to factories. These factories are like large boxes dispersed around the world from Florida to Paris and The Alps to India. These data centres are necessary for all of the digital services we have grown to rely on. Creating these data centres are quite expensive and they typically cost approximately $20 billion per year.
One of the largest data centres is about 1 million square feet and it requires a large amount of electricity to run. To put this into perspective, it needs the same amount of electricity as an entire city made up of 1 million persons. All of the data centres currently use more than 2% of the power or electricity available. This is troubling because global data usage is doubling at an extremely fast rate and is currently doubling every 4 years.
You would be surprised to know that you likely are not aware of these data centres, even if they are located nearby. You would also not be able to tell which data centre stores your personal data or streams your Netflix movies. Additionally, you would also be unaware of the type of power it uses whether that be coal energy or renewable energy sources.
It is no secret that our entire economy is becoming less material and physical items are being quickly replaced by their digital counterparts. It is often advertised that this change doesn’t have much of an environmental effect. However, that’s not exactly true. Basically, if the entire IT industry of the world had to be represented as countries, the US and China would be the only countries that would be responsible for climate change. This is based on a recent Greenpeace report on the importance of creating a green internet.
In order to process, store and use data, a lot of energy is needed. The largest data centres use extremely powerful processors at 1,000+ megawatts. Additionally, a lot of energy needs to be used to prevent overheating and keep the surroundings cool.
Unfortunately, every single digital action adds to this growing need. Even when you use Google to search, one search requires as much energy as is needed to light a bulb (60 watt) for 17 seconds which results in the creation of 0.2 grams of CO2. This may seem like a small amount of energy and CO2 emissions, however, when you think about the large number of searches performed every minute, hour and day, you can easily see how much it adds up.
One of the things that really uses up a lot of data is streaming videos online. Cisco has been actively tracking video streaming and has concluded that video streaming actually takes up as much as 82% of online traffic. Netflix takes up approximately a third of online traffic in the U.S.
New Ways Of Using Energy
Nowadays, more companies are striving towards only using renewable energy sources. In order to make this a reality, many of these companies are creating energy campuses. One particular company, Switch, which runs the largest data centres in the world has indicated their plans for using solar power and creating a solar energy hub in Nevada. This is definitely ground-breaking since it will be the biggest one in the world, outside of China.