The Dirty Cloud: IT Will Account For 12 Percent Of Global Electricity Use By 2017

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Greenpeace report says mobile device boom and slow-acting tech giants such as Amazon are slowing cloud computing’s green transformation

By 2017, the electricity consumption of our smartphones, tablets and laptops, along with the networks and data centres which power them, is set to account for 12 percent of global electricity consumption.

As more consumers turn to cloud computing and on-demand services such as Netflix continue to grow, the power supply needed will increase exponentially as more pressure is put on global networks and data centres.

Clicking Green

These findings are from a new report from Greenpeace called ‘Clicking Green’, which studied the power consumption of our increasingly connected, cloud-powered world.

But it’s not all down to the consumers, said Greenpeace. Technology giants are also failing to turn green, with Microsoft slipping behind competitors Apple and Google in the race to build a green Internet.

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Greenpeace’s green company scorecard

Apple leads in powering its own ‘corner of the Internet’ with renewable energy, with its latest data centre builds set to be powered by renewable energy methods. Greenpeace said that Apple is also having a positive impact on pushing major colocation data centre providers to aid the company in hitting its 100 percent renewable energy goal.

However, the report lambasted Amazon, the world’s largest cloud provider, for not being transparent. Greenpeace said: “Amazon’s adoption of a 100 percent renewable energy goal, while potentially significant, lacks basic transparency and, unlike similar commitments from Apple, Facebook or Google, does not yet appear to be guiding Amazon’s investment decisions toward renewable energy and away from coal.”

Streaming

Powering this explosion of online streaming demands are data centres. The number of larger data centres is expected to increase dramatically, with mega data centres accounting for more than 70 percent of data centre construction in 2018.

But despite significant improvements in transparency from some companies since 2012, said Greenpeace, estimates of the energy demand of our growing number of electronic devices and the online world vary greatly, making accurate estimates difficult. However, recent studies from Greenpeace estimate that the collective electricity consumption of our devices, data centres, and networks will jump from 7.4 percent of global electricity consumption in 2012 to between 7 percent and 12 percent by 2017.

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Predicted electricity consumption

Internet data is growing at 20 percent a year, and big data’s massive growth will only increase as cheaper smartphones saturate the global market. Greenpeace estimated that by 2020, nearly 80 percent of the planet’s adult population will be connected to the Internet, with traffic from mobile devices increasing 69 percent in 2014 alone.

Data centres

Colocation data centres, which house multiple vendors and customers, continue to lag far behind consumer-facing data centre operators in their 100 percent renewable targets, said Greenpeace. But the campaigning group said that Equinix’s 100 percent renewable adoption is an “important step”.

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Colocation data centre provider scorecard

 

The report said that electricity is the biggest cost for data centres, therefore making it one of the biggest barriers in creating a green cloud. But as costs rise, data centre operators are exploring how they can best increase their own supply of renewable energy, as pressure from customers increases.

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