The New York Times story refers to a study published in the journal Science: Recalibrating global data centre energy use estimates.
Data centres represent the information backbone of an increasingly digitalised world. Demand for their services has been rising rapidly. Data-intensive technologies such as artificial intelligence, smart and connected energy systems, distributed manufacturing systems, and autonomous vehicles promise to increase demand further.
Given that data centres are energy-intensive enterprises, estimated to account for around 1 percent of worldwide electricity use, these trends have clear implications for global energy demand and must be analysed rigorously.
Efficient cloud computing
There’s a common belief that accelerating data processing means the energy used to power data centres is rising fast. It turns out it is not.
Data centres did six times as much computing work in 2018 as in 2010. Yet their power consumption increased only six percent.
There’s also evidence cloud computing means less pollution and greenhouse gas than we feared.
The reason for the new optimism is the amount of work that has shifted to the cloud. And not just any old cloud. Most has moved to the bigger and more energy efficient services.
Cloud giants like AWS and Microsoft run huge data centres. Many place their data centres where they can use low carbon energy. Hydroelectricity and solar power are favourites. Some are located in naturally cold places. This means less need for air conditioning.
Big cloud companies use technologies that pack more computing and storage into ever smaller hardware. Small hardware is usually more efficient.
Energy efficiency is good for the environment. It’s also good for the cloud companies. Energy is often a significant cost. Cloud companies love to boast about their clean energy. It also helps them win business.