While most climate change activists are focused on limiting emissions from the automotive, aviation and energy sectors, it’s the communications industry that is on track to generate more carbon emissions than all of the aforementioned sectors.
In 2016, it was reported that the world’s data centres used more than Britain’s total electricity consumption – 416.2 terawatt hours, significantly higher than the UK’s 300 terawatt hours. At three percent of the global electricity supply and accounting for about two percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, data centres have the same carbon footprint as the aviation industry.
Recent predictions state that the energy consumption of data centres is set to account for 3.2 percent of the total worldwide carbon emissions by 2025 and they could consume no less than a fifth of global electricity [SSMA emphasis]. By 2040, storing digital data is set to create 14 percent of the world’s emissions, around the same proportion as the US does today.
Current statistics show that only half of the world’s population is connected to the internet and therefore contributing to this data deluge. Despite this, IDC noted that the number of data centres worldwide has grown from 500,000 in 2012 to more than 8 million today. The amount of energy used by data centres continues to double every four years, meaning they have the fastest-growing carbon footprint of any area within the IT sector.
The launch of 5G, the new wave of IoT devices, and a thriving cryptocurrency scene will only compound the problem. As more devices become connected more data will need to be processed than ever before.
Abridged from Computerworld: Why data centres are the new frontier in the fight against climate change by Charlotte Trueman.