Data consumption is growing exponentially, as people and devices come online. While this ballooning of demand has been partially offset by Moore’s Law (ie computers are becoming smaller and more powerful), data centres – the sites powering our insatiable demand for internet-based services – are consuming an increasing proportion of our resources. Conservative estimates predict that data centres will consume 8% of the world’s energy by 2025, but it could be as much as 20%.
The data centre industry has made rapid efficiency gains in recent years, but these alone will not be adequate to solve the problem, and tech companies are increasingly turning to renewables to lessen their environmental footprint, due to both political and economic pressure.
Tech companies are already big users of renewables (Google claims to be the biggest corporate purchaser globally) and many, including Facebook, Microsoft and Google, have signed the RE100 pledge to get 100% of energy from renewable sources by 2050 or earlier. Apple has already hit 100% of its data centres powered by renewables. Some tech giants are in the position to provide capital and resources for new renewable plants, others are utilising roof space for solar generation, while others still are buying renewable energy from energy companies.
Looking to the future, there’s likely to be more onsite generation of renewables, with many firms having pledged to projects already. Additionally, location of data centres will become more important, not just for cooling efficiency gains (the cold air flows of colder climates can be harnessed to cool data centre equipment), but also proximity to reliable renewable sources.
Since the returns from efficiency gains may start to level off, renewables will be an essential future part of managing our data consumption in a sustainable way.