If the Internet were a country it would rank fifth in the world for energy usage according to a recent report from Greenpeace. For those of you keeping track at home, that means that data centers around the world use more energy annually than India or Germany.
The report, released in April this year, examined the energy footprint of major IT companies based on their use of clean and dirty energies. IT server farms the report notes, are the factories of the 21st century and like their brick-and-mortar counterparts of the Industrial Revolution, their effect on the environment must be addressed.
The comparison between the Internet and a smoking, belching 18th century cotton mill does invite comment, as does the use of the phrase ‘the cloud’ as a catch all for the anything related to online services or the online ecosystem. Setting aside these points, the report does draw attention to how much energy a big organisation like Google or Facebook uses.
The report is intended in many ways to break the perception that companies like Twitter exist in cyberspace only as well as the corollary belief that they are therefore green and environmentally friendly. In reality, data centers account for 2% of global energy use and electronic devices consume 15% of home electricity.
Furthermore, the report distinguishes between efficient IT and green IT. More efficient IT essentially means less power consumption via technical solutions. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the power being used and saved is generated in a green way. To use a domestic example you might buy a TV that promises to use 50% less power but it is still using power generated by burning fossil fuels, just half as much. At home you can offset this environmental effect by buying green energy from your electricity supplier. Green IT implies IT companies do the same.
Whether IT giants go green remains to be seen, but the report does draw the issue into the open by making clear the connection between your next Google search and dirty power.