Monday, December 11, 2017

‘Tsunami of Data’ Could Consume One Fifth of Global Electricity by 2025

Communication Share of Global Electricity Usage (Credit: Gartner) Click to Enlarge.
Pressed by Greenpeace and other environment groups, large tech companies with a public face, including Google, Facebook, Apple, Intel and Amazon, have promised to use renewable energy to power data centers.  In most cases they are buying it off grid but some are planning to build solar and wind farms close to their centers.

Greenpeace IT analyst Gary Cook says only about 20% of the electricity used in the world’s data centers is so far renewable.

“The good news is that some companies have certainly embraced their responsibility, and are moving quite aggressively to meet their rapid growth with renewable energy.  Others are just growing aggressively,” he says.

Architect David Hughes, who has challenged Apple’s new center in Ireland, says the government should not be taken in by the promises.

“Using renewable energy sounds good but no-one else benefits from what will be generated, and it skews national attempts to reduce emissions.  Data centers… have eaten into any progress we made to achieving Ireland’s 40% carbon emissions reduction target.  They are just adding to demand and reducing our percentage.  They are getting a free ride at the Irish citizens’ expense,” says Hughes.

Eirgrid estimates indicate that by 2025, one in every 3kWh generated in Ireland could be going to a data center, he added.  “We have sleepwalked our way into a 10% increase in electricity consumption.”

Fossil fuel plants may have to be kept open longer to power other parts of the country and the costs will fall on the consumer, he says.  “We will have to upgrade our grid and build more power generation both wind and backup generation for when the wind isn’t there and this all goes onto people’s bills.”

Under a best case scenario, says Andrae, there will be massive continuous improvements of power saving, renewable energy will become the norm, and the explosive growth in demand for data will slow.

But equally, he says, demand could continue to rise dramatically if the industry keeps growing at 20% a year, driverless cars each with dozens of embedded sensors, and cypto-currencies like Bitcoin which need vast amounts of computer power become mainstream.

“There is a real risk that it all gets out of control.  Policy makers need to keep a close eye on this,” says Andrae.

Read more at ‘Tsunami of Data’ Could Consume One Fifth of Global Electricity by 2025

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