Sustainable computing — where to focus?

Progress in renewable energy has pushed IT carbon footprints down, revealing how much more work is needed in manufacturing.

Energy and sustainable computing

Data centres get significant focus in discussions about sustainable computing because it’s easy to pick on an industry that is growing rapidly, consuming a lot of energy, and where the biggest player (Amazon) lacks transparency. This seems intuitive because we all get an electricity bill and can link charging our laptop or phone to what we pay each month. However, the tech industry has made significant progress in decarbonising the infrastructure it owns — mostly data centres. When it comes to the big cloud providers, this narrative is becoming outdated and at least Google and Microsoft are fighting over who has the greenest cloud.

Graph to show estimates for electricity intensity for the transmission network system from Aslan, et al (2018).

Materials and sustainable computing

The big players like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, have been successful in their transition to powering their data centres with renewable electricity. This means that even as data centre energy consumption increases, the carbon intensity decreases.

Although the energy consumption of Facebook’s Prineville data centre increased between 2013 and 2019, its operational carbon output decreased because of renewable-energy purchases. From Gupta, et al (2020).
The hardware life cycle includes production, transport, use, and end-of-life processing. From Gupta, et al (2020).

Sustainable computing — where to focus?

The transition to renewables is happening. Renewables will account for almost 90% of the increase in global total power capacity in 2020, and this will accelerate in 2021. There is still a long way to go but the economics of wind (and solar) have been proven.

Co-founder — the best tools for developers. Researching sustainable computing at Uptime Institute.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store