Managing Green and Sustainable Energy Solutions During a Data-Intense Century
According to Kevin O'Leary, "clean" Bitcoins are the future of blockchain, but how far away are we really from fully sustainable computing?
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Technology has been rapidly evolving in the past few decades, and that is great. Technological advancements have improved life in a multitude of ways, with just about all aspects of life and, consequently, business being able to profit from technology. That being said, the demand for energy that this digital world brings with it is higher than ever.
Data from 2015 showed that the information and communications technology (ICT) ecosystem uses around 3.6 percent of global electricity. However, due to the current trends in technology, the energy demand of the sector has grown even larger.
Why computing and energy demands are rising
Cryptocurrencies and artificial intelligence (AI) are major drivers for global computing demand since they need a lot of computing power and electricity. While cryptocurrencies and AI are already gaining a lot of traction, this is just the beginning.
For example, Bitcoin recently reached a price of over $60,000, marking a new all-time high. However, according to JP Morgan, it could even reach a price of $100,000. And with recent developments in the sector, this is actually not entirely unlikely. Payment facilitators started allowing customers to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrencies. Tesla bought Bitcoins for $1.5 billion and started offering Bitcoin as a payment method for its products, and many other companies started buying Bitcoin as a currency reserve.
With projects like Bitcoin gaining so much traction, the demand for computing power and energy is also increasing. Further, energy-hungry data centers make up a large part of the ICT sector's energy demand, with them alone accounting for around one percent of worldwide electricity use. These data centers are needed because a huge amount of data has to be processed.
The world is becoming more and more digital, the internet is ever-expanding with billions of people using social media platforms, and businesses are employing all kinds of data — computing-intensive applications, like AI or blockchain technology. In numbers, this means that, globally, around 33 zettabytes of data was processed in 2018, with 1 zettabyte being equal to 1 trillion gigabytes. This is expected to climb to 175 zettabytes in 2025.
Data-processing and sustainability
With computing-intensive applications, such as AI, machine learning, Bitcoin and more being on the rise, the demand for high-performance computing (HPC) data centers is going through the roof, and the global HPC market is predicted to grow to around $50 billion by 2025.
To meet this demand, many companies are now offering high-performance computing infrastructure platforms for the technical processing of data sets in the billions. However, climate change is a real problem that needs to be addressed. The ICT sector as a whole accounts for up to 2.8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Green and sustainable energy solutions are needed, especially in this data-intense digital century. Not only are fossil fuels finite, but they are also bad for the environment, and alternatives such as nuclear energy aren't particularly viable either at the moment. Fortunately, the global renewable energy market was already valued at $928.0 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach $1.5 trillion by 2025. Further, a lot of countries are already taking major steps toward a green future, but this problem can't just be solved from the top down.
In order for businesses to stay competitive and profitable while being sustainable, they need access to green and sustainable energy solutions for their projects. While there are a lot of potential sustainable power sources available all over the world, they can't be used for HPC purposes most of the time because many of them aren't located close enough to where the electricity is needed.
However, to meet the global power demand in a sustainable fashion, it's important to utilize such energy sources all over the globe. Additionally, using locally produced renewable energy can give businesses a big advantage over competitors thanks to cheaper prices.
What companies are doing to tackle this issue
There are many ways to deal with the growing demand for electricity. For example, Facebook developed a system called Autoscale that reduces the number of servers that need to be on during low-traffic hours. This led to power savings of about 10 to 15 percent.
Companies, especially data center providers, are also constantly optimizing their operations to be as power-efficient as possible. This can be achieved by developing or using more efficient hardware, but it can also be achieved by building a data center in a colder region to reduce the electricity needed for cooling.
However, those are band-aid solutions to the deeper underlying problem. The issue is not the amount of energy that is used but how it is created. A data center can be very efficient, but if it is powered by fossil fuels, it's not sustainable. That being said, there are also companies that are doing something about that.
For example, at the beginning of 2021, Northern Data, which is a leading developer and operator of HPC infrastructure solutions with a focus on green efficiency and sustainability, announced the acquisition of a 4.5 gigawatts data center site in Northern Sweden that is fully powered by renewable energy generated by local hydropower plants.
Additionally, the German corporation recently sold a Texas-based data center for approximately €550 million ($662 million). According to the press release, Northern Data plans to reinvest the proceeds in several new HPC sites, all of which feature "sustainability attributes such as >90% renewable energy use."
By combining self-developed software and specified hardware with intelligent concepts for a sustainable energy supply, the company provides renewable energy-powered data centers for HPC applications, such as AI, autonomous driving, graphics rendering and blockchain businesses.
From cloud computing to cryptocurrencies, an increasing number of businesses will have a need for data processing services. As more and more data processing providers move to green solutions, business owners can actively support the evolution by switching to sustainable providers. If Kevin O'Leary is right about the "clean" bitcoin movement, partnering with a sustainable data processor could soon become a critical marketing factor to win customers.