The impact of ICT

The paperless office on-set is on the upswing. Scripts and call sheets are no longer printed out as hard copy in large numbers. But digital data transfer is not climate- neutral, because smart phones and tablets consume much more energy than the charge in their batteries. The increasing amounts of data stored on cloud servers are leading to a rising demand for energy in data centers. “One Google search can take you sixty meters in an automobile”, says Helge Gallefoss, CEO of the Norwegian company Fjord IT, whose green data center is more than 98%-powered by renewables from wind- and waterpower stations.

 

In most countries, the energy mix supplied by the power grid is generated by either coal or nuclear power stations. In Germany, the share of power generation from renewables increased to 46 % in 2019, but more than 30 % of the power is still being generated by coal. The energy consumption of data centers worldwide is between 200 and 500 billion kWh. According to a study conducted by the Institute for Future Energy Consumer Needs and Behavior, data centers generate 3.7 % of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, and they leave a greater carbon footprint than the sum total of all air traffic. About 80 % of these digital transfers is attributable to video streaming. Due to video-on-demand services, more than 100 megatons of carbon emissions are generated every year, which equals the carbon footprint of Chile.

 

Due to the introduction of 5G cell-phone standards, which will enable high speed data connections of 10 Gbit/s and latency below one millisecond for video streaming in real-time on mobile devices, the energy consumption of data centers will rise sharply. According to early indications from The Shift Project, the ICT industry’s (Information and Communications Technology) carbon footprint could double to 8 % of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. According to this forecast, the yearly energy consumption of data centers could reach 2,000 billion kWh by 2030.

 

The IT industry is already at work on solutions to increase energy efficiency. Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) serves as an indicator, which represents the relationship between the energy demanded of IT versus the total energy expenditure of data centers. Besides electrical power for IT, cooling, power supply, lighting, sensors, and security systems also have to be powered.

 

More than a third of the energy consumption is devoted to cooling servers to temperatures of 21°– 25° C. The American standard organization ASHRAE created models to increase the temperature to the 27°– 30° C range so that energy devoted to cooling could be subs- tantially reduced. “The willingness to accept higher temperatures is limited”, admits Günter Eggers, Deputy Chair of the industry working group Datacenter & Hosting, “because there is less of a buffer zone in case of a power blackout.”

 

Industry giants Google and Amazon are building data centers in areas that have naturally low outdoor temperatures. Microsoft is experimenting with energy supplied by fuel cells as well as with underwater data centers. The Norwegian data center is also using natural cooling systems. At the AM3 Datencenter in Amsterdam, cooling water is pumped from a depth of 170 meters below ground, while a green roof improves the building’s insulation. Recycling heat waste holds vast potential. In Germany alone there is 14 TWh of heat available in data centers. “With half of this secondary heat, we could heat tens of thousands of buildings”, sums up Eggers. “But we lack the infrastructure."

 

Photos: © Sanrail/Fotolia.com, Equinix

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