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.
The bad news is companies like Facebook, in search of a cheap energy source are turning to coal to run their increasingly large data centers. Instead of driving innovation forward toward renewable energy they’re turning their backs for the easy buck. It’s not only the servers that use up energy but also huge temperature control systems that keep the complexes climate controlled for the highest performance.
“Increased power demand is forcing all new data centers to focus almost entirely on energy efficiency and lowering dependence on traditional power means,” Kyle Brown, Technical Documentation Manager at Teladata — a San Francisco Bay Area data center company that specializes in energy efficiency — told Inhabitat. “This means everything from clean renewable sources of energy, to new energy cells. As data centers move forward, they will inevitably become green and more sustainable,” he added. The Greenpeace study seconds this point: if data centers want to remain profitable, “they must use their power and influence to not only drive investments near renewable energy sources, but also become involved in setting the policies that will drive rapid deployment of renewable electricity generation economy-wide.”