How green is your digital footprint.
Wall Street Journal Custom Studios interview DigiPlex Chairman Byrne Murphy on the environmental impact of data centres.
Wall Street Journal Custom Studios interview DigiPlex Chairman Byrne Murphy on the environmental impact of data centres and why the largest US firms are coming to the Nordics.
Every time we browse the Internet, stream a television series or use the cloud, a process starts in a data center. “And if that data center is a power-hungry, coal-fired one you are contributing to climate change,” says Byrne Murphy, chairman of DigiPlex, a data-center specialist based in the Nordic region.
According to Gary Cook, an IT sector analyst at Greenpeace, it needn’t be like this: “If we build the Internet in the right way, with the right sources of energy, it could help us make the transition to renewables faster. If we build it with all the sources of energy we’re trying to move away from, then – given the rate of growth – it will make it impossible for us to make that transition.”
Since 2010 Mr. Cook has been the lead author on the organization’s project to benchmark the electricity consumption of the IT sector, published each year in its report Clicking Clean. The current report shows the IT sector consuming 7% of the global electricity supply already, almost half of that through an ever-expanding international network of giant data centers.
As more of our work and personal data and entertainment are provided by these facilities, it is possible to calculate the carbon emitted by every click of our digital lives. DigiPlex says that even watching a one-hour episode of a streamed television show has the carbon footprint of a 100-meter car journey, and our individual Internet email contributes 1.2 kilograms of CO2 to the atmosphere every year.
Aggregating all this activity shows that our digital lives are contributing to climate change. As streaming, Internet banking, social media use and technologies like the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence become more common so we create more data, and so we will consume more power to store and process it. “Globally, data centers emit 2% of greenhouse-gas emissions already. Last year, they consumed more power than the U.K. as a country,” says Mr. Murphy of DigiPlex.