Computers and the environment

Magic Garden
Creative Commons License photo: Randy Son Of Robert

The Economist has a really good leader this week about Computers and the environment. It is estimated that data centres consumed 0.6% of the world’s electricity in 2000 increasing to 1% by 2005. Data centres are responsible for more CO2 emissions than Argentina or the Netherlands and it is estimated that the carbon footprint of cloud computing will be greater than that of aviation in 10 years.

The corollary of more computing in the sky is more and bigger data centres on earth. These are warehouses packed with humming electronic gear, and in particular thousands of servers, the powerful computers that crunch and dish up data. The biggest facilities are the size of half a dozen football pitches and house as many as 80,000 servers (see article). They are huge energy hogs: in America alone, according to the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), data centres already account for 1.5% of electricity consumption.

It takes a long time to grow young.
Creative Commons License photo: nattu

There was an interesting analysis at the end of 2006 about the energy consumption of Second Life avatars. Second Life ran 4,000 servers at full power 24/7 and there was an average of 10,000 to 15,000 avatars in Second Life at one time. The annualised power consumption was estimated to be 1,752 kWh. This compares to a worldwide average of 2,436 kWh per year. This means the energy consumption of a second life avatar is roughly the same as a real person. Of course, in developed countries most people consume nearly 8,000 kWh so our digital equivalents are much less power hungry, but it’s still a significant figure. Food for thought perhaps.

One thought on “Computers and the environment

  1. And how much would it cost in terms of power, time and other resources to have all that information shipped without the internet, by paper or other means.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *