The next time you’re marveling about the amount of information you can access at the click of your mouse, think about this: if it were considered a country, our collective computing carbon footprint would place 5th in world for energy use. What shows up on your computer screen is most likely coming from a large data center — or “data farm” — thousands of miles away from you. Today Greenpeace released a study detailing the amount of energy consumed by data centers and revealing that most data centers are run by coal fired power plants — one of the most destructive kinds of energy there is.
With the ever-increasing amount of information on the web — from movies and music to books and video games — data centers are constantly growing. In 2008 The Climate Group and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative issued the SMART 2020 report, which noted that personal computer ownership will quadruple by 2020.
There’s good news and bad news about this. The more people buy computers, the more capital data companies acquire. With the capital behind large data companies, green innovation can be championed in the name of better profits. Yahoo, for instance, is building a data center specifically near a hydropower plant in New York State in order to lower their energy costs and carbon emissions. Google just created an energy company — Google Energy — so they could buy energy in bulk from whatever source they like. They also buy carbon offsets for their entire company’s emissions.