Want to see where 3% of the world’s energy consumption goes? Simply follow your data. The cloud that everybody talks about looks, at least on the outside, like an unassuming warehouse somewhere close to a city grid. Inside, the story is quite different. Hundreds of server racks glow as they receive, process, and transmit the data you create when you interact online with companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon, and thousands more.
The click you just made to read this article unleashed an army of servers into action.
The amazing feat of technology required for processing data at the epicenter of today’s data centers powers much of our economy and helps you stay connected with your friends and family. To process the world’s information to keep our connected societies moving, these incredible facilities need energy…lots of it. Some data centers consume as much energy as a small city. Their growth puts constraints on the grid and makes them a significant player in our collective aim to grow sustainably.
Massive Data Centers Power Our Connected World
Time magazine summarizes how we became an always-connected society quite eloquently: “In 1995, you might have had a desktop computer and perhaps a game system. In 2000, maybe you had a laptop and a basic cell phone. By 2009, you had a laptop and a wireless-connected smartphone. Today you may well have a laptop, a smartphone, a tablet and a streaming device for your digital TV. The even more connected might be wearing a Fitbit tracker, writing notes with a wi-fi-enabled Livescribe pen, and tracking their runs with a GPS watch. And there will certainly be more to come, as the best minds of our generation design new devices for us to buy.”
To picture just how massive data centers need to be in order to support our online activities, here’s what just loading your Facebook home page takes, in their words: “Loading a user’s home page typically requires accessing hundreds of servers, processing tens of thousands of individual pieces of data, and delivering the information selected in less than one second.” Data takes energy. To help you stay connected across your social networks, process your online purchases, display your search results, or send you the latest news, it takes around 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in the U.S. alone. This is equivalent to 6.5 million homes—that is eight-times the size a city like San Francisco. As you can imagine, utilities have been scrambling in the past few years to keep up with our always-connected way of life.
The energy that powers the cloud has a big and growing impact on our climate. According to The Independent, “Data centers have mushroomed from virtually nothing 10 years ago to consuming about 3 percent of the global electricity supply and accounting for about 2 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. That gives it the same carbon footprint as the airline industry.” This growth shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. According to that same article, the industry expects to require three-times more energy in the coming decade. New data-heavy technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications that collect and process data in remote locations will help to fuel that growth.
Keeping the Cloud Growing and Clean
The energy that powers data centers is as clean as the utilities that supply it choose for it to be. The industry and utilities are working together to provide resilient new sources of energy that can address three key issues to run the business of data without a glitch. These issues include accessing new sources of energy to increase uptime while relieving the pressure data centers place on the electricity grid. The industry also needs energy that can help them expand beyond their traditional footprint to accommodate for IoT and M2M remote data processing requirements. Furthermore, there is the issue of using energy that satisfies all of us, individuals and companies alike who want their cake and eat it too. Thus, enabling us to have both 24/7 data processing and a sustainable world through carbon-free energy.
The good news is that the cloud is not the only industry benefiting from technological innovation. Energy is going through an astounding period of innovation in areas that range from efficiency to new sources of power. As data centers grow, so do the choices for sustainable and efficient energy available to the industry. We see examples of this innovation all around us: windmills sprouting up everywhere (making Texas, for example, whom people think is synonymous with oil, the largest producer of wind power in the U.S.); new efficient solar panels from Tesla that don’t make your house look like a spaceship, and thus, invite greater adoption; and hydrogen powered buses and cars becoming more common in places like California.
We believe we are at the beginning of a new energy paradigm just as the world’s demand for it, including the demand from data centers, spikes. Our work on Hydrogen 2.0 will help data centers cope with the ever-increasing demand for energy, while achieving greater power reliability, lowering operating costs, and reducing their carbon footprint. This is because Hydrogen 2.0 can provide localized, on-site production of clean, abundant, and affordable hydrogen energy.
Go Ahead and Click with Confidence
According to Time, “We already use 50% more energy to move bytes than we do to move planes in global aviation.” So, the next time you drive on a highway near a city, look closely at those quiet warehouses. Many of them buzz with the activity your cell phone triggers to quietly power your mobile life without a glitch. To keep the cloud agile, healthy and clean, the companies you interact with online work every day with data centers, utilities, and energy companies to advance to the dawn of the available, affordable, and clean power we all want.
As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.