Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, August 17, 2022

New Working Group Targets Low-Carbon Power Sourcing 

Adobe, eBay, Facebook, HP,, and Symantec are working with BSR to create a greener Internet. 

A new group has formed to promote access to sustainable datacenter power sources. The Future of Internet Power was started by BSR in partnership with Adobe, eBay, Facebook, HP,, and Symantec. Under this united banner, these leading companies seek to "identify and publicize best practices around low-carbon power sourcing for data centers in the United States, and ... help internet companies work more effectively with key policymakers and utilities."

Worldwide, the IT ecosystem is thought to be responsible for 2 percent of global IT emissions. In the US, datacenters along with end-user equipment and access networks represent 1 to 2 percent of total electricity use. According to noted energy researcher and Stanford University professor Jonathan Koomey, a remarkable 10 percent of US electricity goes to powering the Internet.

The non-profit BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) believes that reducing the carbon footprint of IT is integral to its mission of building a just and sustainable world though the development of sustainable business strategies and solutions.

BSR Manager of Climate and Energy Ryan Schuchard revealed the new initiative yesterday. He acknowledged that datacenter operators are investing in energy-efficient equipment and infrastructure, but he argued that the source of power was just as important.

Schuchard writes:

This is because the mix of renewables, natural gas, and coal from a local grid determines the level of climate impact that results from generating a kilowatt-hour of electricity. And as data centers expand, operators are building sites in new locations where the electricity grid mix has a higher carbon footprint.

Schuchard reports that some regions of the country, for example large parts of the West Coast and New England, have access to low-carbon sources, like hydropower and nuclear. Yet other areas, namely the Midwest and southern states, rely on coal-based power and are thus more carbon-intensive. These locales are ripe for leadership that can promote the development of more eco-friendly energy sources, notes Schuchard.

BSR points to a number of challenges that make it difficult for companies to locate and manage sources of low-carbon power. There are infrastructure requirements, cost premiums, conditions and technicalities, operational complexity, and regulatory hurdles. The Future of Internet Power working group will develop a set of best practices and engage with policy makers and utilities. Down the road, the group is leaving the door open to "expand these insights for additional regions and sectors."

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