The Internet has greened many aspects of modern life, such as reducing resource extraction and emissions by digital distribution of mail, music, paper goods, and entertainment. Even so, the infrastructure supporting the web could still be made much more efficient through improvements to its computers, servers, and buildings housing their equipment. The US Department of Energy announced this month that it intends to set standards for the technology and its infrastructure.

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A new study co-authored by Eric Masanet, Arman Shehabi, and Jonathan Koomey published in the journal, Nature Climate Change outlined how the infrastructure powering the Internet can be made more efficient. Most large data centers have the potential to cut their emissions by 88 percent by operating cheaper and more efficient off-the-shelf IT equipment, using less energy to cool and operate their facilities, and choose low-carbon or renewable energy sources. By combining renewables with other strategies, such big outward-facing centers could possibly slash their footprints by an amazing 98 percent.

Companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple have worked towards implementing all three strategies in order to save money and avoid pressure from environmental activist groups. Overall, centers are responsible for 1.5 percent of the world’s energy consumption and 0.5 percent of carbon emissions.

The most important factor in shrinking emissions lies with IT equipment such as servers. Consolidation and better software can help increase efficiency anywhere from 30 to 80 percent, according to the study. Switching flash memory instead of hard discs on the motherboard and faster computers have the ability to also greatly contribute to productivity.

Most of the obstacles to efficiency standards come from inward facing businesses that tend to centralize their data and do not take advantage of cloud computing. Most of the department heads that run the systems are not responsible for the overall electric bill and are more concerned with maintaining control over information. In addition to administrators, the designers of equipment such as cable boxes and modems do not consider efficiency as they are not ultimately responsible for the utility costs. Environmental organizations and policy makers have in the past focused more on maximizing renewable energy sources, which the study believes is a priority that should be overtaken by the efforts to develop better IT components.

The DOE plans will be open for public comment on August 12, and the department will begin drafting its new rules through the authority of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA).

+ Stanford University

Via Science Daily

Images via Wikicommons users Tom Raftery and Fleshas.