DATE: Jan 23, 2016
SNIP: The amount of energy consumed by the world’s data centres – the repositories for billions of gigabytes of information – will treble in the next decade, putting an enormous strain on energy supplies and dealing a hefty blow to efforts to contain global warming, experts say.
Whether you’re “liking” something on Facebook, streaming the latest Tarantino movie or posting an instagram from the pub, every internet activity involves huge amounts of data that needs to be stored somewhere. And as the “internet of everything” brings innovations such as driverless cars and high-definition video watches ever closer, the vast network of data centres that have sprung up in the past decade will spread.
Already, data centres have mushroomed from virtually nothing 10 years ago to consuming about 3 per cent of the global electricity supply and accounting for about 2 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. That gives it the same carbon footprint as the airline industry.
Massive as data centre energy use may already be, this is nothing to what lies in store, analysts warn. Ian Bitterlin, Britain’s foremost data centre expert and a visiting professor at the University of Leeds, says the amount of energy used by data centres is doubling every four years – despite the innovations in hardware that massively increase their capacity to store data. As a result, analysts forecast that data centres will consume roughly treble the amount of electricity in the next decade.
“We need to be more responsible about what we use the internet for … Data centres aren’t the culprits – it’s driven by social media and mobile phones. It’s films, pornography, gambling, dating, shopping – anything that involves images. It’s a great example of the Jevons paradox – the easier you make it to consume the product the greater the consumption will be.”