Climate Change

24 Aug 2022

How the Energy Industry Can Take the Lead on Making the Digital World More Sustainable

24 Aug 2022  by   
Ainsley Lawrence writes on the often overlooked environmental impact that results from the immense amount of data created on a daily basis. Data management centres, she writes, are the perfect example of areas where there is significant room for improvement.

Courtesy Pixabay

Every day hundreds of billions of pieces of data are created. Untold gigabytes of data are created for analysis, marketing, or research all over the world by the minute. Millions of people scrolling their cell phones, checking emails, or snapping photos are helping to create this data whether they realise it or not.

Large companies are also creating incredible amounts of data at an astounding rate. Monstrous data storage facilities are popping up all over the globe which has led to the rise of big data. This data can be analysed by computers and algorithms to pull out previously unknown relationships and connections. It is a huge boon for companies that are striving to reach their consumers on a more intimate level.

What many people and companies do not consider is the incredible environmental impact that all of this data causes. Large data centres require a profound amount of energy to run effectively. Some research estimates that data centres across the globe use nearly 30 billion watts of electricity just to keep things running. Only a small portion of that energy use is going directly towards running computations.

It doesn’t take a great deal of experience or observation to conclude that many energy companies don’t necessarily have the best reputation within sustainability circles. The companies aren’t exactly known for their innovative approaches to reeling back human-caused climate change. However, sustainability efforts associated with data storage can be one place where the energy industry can lead the way in making an effort to create a more sustainable environment.

Eco-friendly data centres

Data centres are electricity powerhouses. Depending on the platform the data centre is supporting, it could be processing the information that billions of people produce online every day. For instance, large social media companies such as Facebook generate so much data daily that the company needs multiple data centres to keep up. Each one of these sprawling centres covers thousands of square feet and houses rows upon rows upon rows of servers, all equipped with industrial-sized cooling systems to keep everything operational.

Unsurprisingly, the energy consumption in a data centre such as this is astronomical — and that is just one large company amongst thousands of large companies that are collecting, storing, and analysing information and data about their customers. The problem of energy consumption in data centres is a problem that not many are willing to address since our society has become so dependent upon data.

Fortunately, there are ways to make data centres a bit more eco-friendly. One way is to focus on helping conserve energy when the servers are in idle mode. As previously mentioned, only a small percentage of the energy consumed in data centres goes towards direct computations. The vast majority of it goes to keeping servers in an idle state where they can jump in and work at a moment’s notice. Putting a server in eco-mode requires the use of less power when the server is simply idling. An estimated 99% of energy can be saved this way.

Energy industry taking the lead

In many ways, the energy industry is poised to take the lead in solving this difficult issue. The industry has access to numerous supplies and types of energy that can be directed toward data centres. For instance, energy companies can help with solar panel installations on data centres that help offset major non-renewable energy consumption without significantly changing the amount of energy needed. There are many ways to help create efficiencies.

New technologies are making it possible for energy companies to coordinate a switch in supply sources faster. This might allow data centre operators to switch between gas and electric energy sources within shorter timeframes. Maybe only spending a day making the switch rather than a couple of weeks. This can increase competition within the energy market, but can also create a greener environment where consumers have greater control over the energy they are receiving.

The incorporation of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) can also make a big difference and help energy companies take a leading role. Artificial intelligence could be used to help determine when a switch in energy sources could reduce environmental impact while still balancing needs across the grid. Likewise, AI could assess situations and help convert servers into eco-mode when necessary to save energy.

One small step to greater sustainability

Of course, energy companies doing anything to help make a positive difference in the sustainability challenge is a good thing. Taking the lead on helping to make the digital world a bit more sustainable is a fantastic step forward, but it definitely doesn’t have to be the only thing — there are literally thousands of small ways that energy companies can help to make the world a more sustainable place.

Some of the changes are big ones. For instance, many energy companies are working to diversify their products. Some are delving into renewable energy sources such as solar, sea, or wind operations. Others are looking at the next big thing such as electric battery storage and the potential for hydrogen to replace gasoline in many instances. Such research and development in diversity could lead to a big breakthrough that moves everything toward a more sustainable direction.

Other options are smaller, but add up to make real differences on the ground over time. Community engagement is a great example of this. Energy companies that are looking to make more sustainable moves can begin in the communities they’re in. This can help increase engagement and buy-in from employees that live locally. It can also send a large message that the energy giants are interested in investing in their communities in a positive and sustainable manner rather than just using them for their resources.

The digital world is not always the cleanest, most energy-efficient place. Data management centres are the perfect example of areas where there is significant room for improvement. Large energy companies can lead this change by taking the initiative to help data centres conserve energy and utilise less impactful sources when possible. Many of the changes that are necessary to become more sustainable will take time to implement, but there are thousands of small things that can be done that will add up to make a real positive difference for everyone.


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