Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Green Internet - a Pie in the sky?

"You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die."
sang Swedish born, US worker leader and poet Joe Hill, expressing how promises of a brighter future makes us accept the current status. Today "Pie in the sky" is perhaps used more to express that some promises are untenable or impractical. The promise of IT to be of use for a clean, green future looks more and more like a pie in the sky....

We here a lot of about how modern technology can provide solutions to energy consumption and global warming. And it is true that you can find a lot of smart solutions. Video conferencing is typically such a thing that could "save" a lot of energy and emissions, compared to people flying to meet. But often these new opportunities just put themselves on top of what we already are doing, and instead of replacing a flight with a video conference, we are perhaps more likely to replace our conference call with a video conference, which then was no net saving.....Anyway let us still be positive about the possibilities for saving energy through IT. But what about IT itself? I always thought that, "well, of course all this IT stuff uses a lot of energy, but compared to cars or steel mills it must be negligeable". A new report from Greenpeace makes me think differently.
According to this report 623 TWh of electricity is used to drive the servers and the internet globally. That is an awful lot of electricity, just to give you an idea:
- The USA produced some 800 TWh from ALL its nuclear plants and the total electricity consumption of ther USA is just above 4,000 TWh. (EIA).
- The total electricity production in the UK was 382 TWh year 2004 (Wikipedia)
- The total energy consumption of Sweden was 398 TWh 2006 and the electricity consumption was 130 TWh (Energiindikatorer 2008).
This is really worrying.

Even more worrying is that the forecast is that there will be used 1,964 TWh of electricity to drive the internet by year 2020.

And remember, electricity is an energy bearer and not an energy source, all this electricity must come from somewhere and there is no chance that we will produce it with solar or wind for many decades to come. And also think about that these figures are for the internet, they are not for your own laptop, your cellphone, or all the masts for their signals or even for your company's own server.....

A blog post on Greenpeace site also tells the following:
There are 50 million computer servers in the world today. And a recent report by BusinessWeek says that, of the 8 million new servers added each year, 50% are bound for data centers. That’s 4 million additional servers per year that will be used to store and deliver computing programs and services over the Internet, or “cloud”. IT Companies are quickly developing cloud-based offerings and building data centers to house servers that store all of the data the cloud delivers - email, photos, videos, entertainment, news, and computing programs. As more and more electricity is required to operate these data centers and run the servers, IT companies are looking for ways to keep their power costs low, which means cheap, dirty power. Unfortunately, a strategy that is still being employed by many IT companies to keep the overhead down is to locate data centers in places where “cheap” coal-fired electricity is available. In January, for example, Facebook commissioned a new data center in Oregon and entered a power service agreement with a utility called PacificCorp, which gets most of its electricity from coal-fired power stations. Just this week, eBay unveiled its new flagship data center, located in South Jordan, Utah, a state that derives 81% of its electricity from coal.
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