We’re sure all of us would like to live in a world where nuclear energy and renewable energy sources – and some natural gas and maybe even some coal with carbon sequestration – powered our lives. But that’s not the world we live in – yet – and most of us have rather limited choices about living our lives in a carbon-free environment.
This would be true even if you could hear windmills in the morning or see the nuclear plant’s cooling towers off in the misty distance. Electricity providers can help with carbon offsets, but for the most part, how electricity whips through the grid and gets to your house is difficult to quantify by source except in general terms.
So this gave us pause:
As the internet grows as a platform — a place where more things are done, not only stored away — the IT industry's hunger for energy will increase. Efficiency is a hot topic in IT, but improving energy efficiency is only part of the solution, the industry also needs to take responsibility for where it gets its energy from in the first place. Simply put: Will the cloud run on coal or renewable energy?
We’d add nuclear energy, but that’s a fight for another day. To us, this smacks of a purity test. Here’s a little more from Greenpeace’s Daniel Kessler:
If we hope to phase out dirty sources of energy to address climate change, then - given the massive amounts of electricity needed in order to run computers, provide backup power and coordinate related cooling equipment that even energy-efficient data centres consume - the last thing we need is for more cloud infrastructure to be built in places where it increases demand for dirty coal-fired power.
Well, no, nothing increases the demand for more “dirty coal-fired power” any more than it increases the demand for more wind power. Locating a data center in one place or another does not increase or lessen the demand for a type of electricity generation by virtue of its siting. If the goal is to bleed away the need for coal-fired plants, this kind of action won’t do it.
Greenpeace suggests that IT company employ their “might” to advocate for change that Greenpeace wants.
We are calling on IT industry giants to put their might behind government policies that give priority grid access for renewable sources like wind and solar energy. IT companies should also support economy-wide climate and energy policies around the world that peak climate emissions by 2015.
But don’t they already do this? Here’s IBM (fancy brochure – take a look at the whole thing):
With businesses and societies facing often volatile energy supplies, a smart grid can save electricity and money and the planet, by linking smart meters in the home with instrumented power lines and plants. And it even paves the way to integrate renewable sources like wind and solar. IBM today is leading seven of the world’s top 10 automated meter projects.
Making environmental stewardship part of our business relationships. At Microsoft, we strive to incorporate our environmental principles into our business relationships. We seek similar commitments to the environment from our major suppliers. We participate in industry groups to set industry standards on environmental practices.
And Google, which responds most directly to Greenpeace (that we found):
Our business powers the platforms that drive the Internet. With hundreds of millions of Google users, it takes extensive computer infrastructure to keep our tools and services running. And that takes a lot of electricity. Generating that electricity requires energy, and as our business grows, we want to make sure we minimize our impact on the Earth's climate. So we’re taking every step we can to produce electricity using renewable energy resources that don't add to the production of greenhouse gas emissions.
So we’re not sure about this one. Greenpeace has had success in making computers “greener” and may see the industry as one that it can effectively push in a desirable direction. Data centers take up about 1.5% of current electric capacity in the U.S. and Google is now in a position to buy and sell electricity itself. So there’s potential here – we’re just not sure we need Greenpeace pushing it in quite this way.
In a way, Greenpeace is simply in the right place here. With its headquarters in Amsterdam, we’re sure it takes advantage of what’s available to it:
Many suppliers offer green power (groene stroom). Also termed sustainable power, green power is electricity produced from environmentally friendly sources such as wind, sun, organic matter or water power. Green power is available from some suppliers at no extra cost; others charge a higher rate.
But it seems to us that IT companies have developed a pretty impressive profile on this subject and effectively walk the line between the world we live in now and the world that’s coming.
Microsoft Bob, release in 1995, was an attempt by the software giant to give Windows 3.1 an interface usable by computer neophytes. Heavily dependent on guides (avatars like the little dog in the screenshot that constantly offered help) and a suite of simplified home-oriented programs, Bob replaced the folder and file interface with rooms in which programs could be placed on the shelves. It was dreadful – resource-hungry, condescending and gaudy – and died within a year. You can read more about Bob here. (My first PC – after a decade as a Commodore fan – came with Bob, which quickly found itself supplanted with OS/2. Still have the Bob disk, though.)