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The Environmental Impact of the Data-Center Industry

Stashed in: Ecology!, Cloud, Teh Internets, Big Data

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Google is happy to report that its data centers account for a scant 0.01 percent of global electricity use, what does that mean in actual kilowatt-hours?

Here’s where things get a bit back-of-the-napkin: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2012 global electricity consumption was 19,710 billion kilowatt-hours. Using Google’s 0.01 percent estimate and electricity-consumption data from the CIA World Factbook, they’re using about as much electricity annually as the entire country of Turkey. (Honestly, that number seems impossibly high considering that in 2011 Google disclosed that it used merely 260 million watts of power, at the time noted for being slightly more than the entire electricity consumption of Salt Lake City.) In its 2013 sustainability report, Facebook stated its data centers used 986 million kilowatt-hours of electricity—around the same amount consumed by Burkina Faso in 2012.

The Internet is humankind's greatest achievement?

At one point in our interview, Gary Cook commented that “the Internet is the single biggest thing we’re going to build as a species. This is something if we build it the right way, with the right sources of energy, could really help power our transition to renewables. If we build it the wrong way, it could actually exacerbate the problem.” While it might be a little hyperbolic to declare the Internet as civilization’s greatest achievement (I’m personally a fan of vaccinations), there’s no shortage of VCs and CEOs who believe and evangelize that position. But embracing such a grandiose statement about the network also means taking a radical responsibility for it and recognizing that how we build the future frankly determines whether we have a future at all.

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