0926 GMT May 24, 2019
Whether you’re liking something on Facebook, streaming the latest Tarantino movie or posting an instagram from the pub, every Internet activity involves huge amounts of data that needs to be stored somewhere. And as the Internet of everything brings innovations such as driverless cars and high-definition video watches ever closer, the vast network of data centers that have sprung up in the past decade will spread, the Independent reported.
This wouldn’t be a problem if these facilities ― which range from a small room with a few servers to vast 150,000 square meter farms ― didn’t consume such enormous amounts of energy.
Already, data centers have mushroomed from virtually nothing 10 years ago to consuming about three percent of the global electricity supply and accounting for about two percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. That gives it the same carbon footprint as the airline industry.
To put the size of this consumption into even sharper relief ― the 416.2 terawatt hours of electricity the world’s data centers used last year was significantly higher than the UK’s total consumption of about 300 terawatt hours.
Massive as data center energy use may already be, this is nothing to what lies in store, analysts warn. Ian Bitterlin, Britain’s foremost data center expert and a visiting professor at the University of Leeds, says the amount of energy used by data centers is doubling every four years ― despite the innovations in hardware that massively increase their capacity to store data. As a result, analysts forecast that data centers will consume roughly treble the amount of electricity in the next decade.
One way to curb their carbon footprint is to increase the amount of renewable energy they use ― a development that is already under way but has much, much further to go to offset the exponential growth in Internet traffic, experts say. Even if the industry were able to shift to 100 percent renewable electricity, the volume of energy they would need would put intolerable pressure on the world’s power systems.
"If we carry on going the way we have been it would become unsustainable – this level of data center growth is not sustainable beyond the next 10 to 15 years. The question is, what are we going to do about it?” said Bitterlin.
He pointed to a study focused on Japan which suggests that its data centers would consume its entire electricity supply by 2030 if growth continues at today’s rate.
“We need to be more responsible about what we use the Internet for … Data centers aren’t the culprits ― it’s driven by social media and mobile phones. It’s films, pornography, gambling, dating, shopping ― anything that involves images. It’s a great example of the Jevons paradox ― the easier you make it to consume the product the greater the consumption will be.”