The tech industry is known for its large-scale competitions, whether it’s with intelligent smartphones, powerful chips, or popular gaming consoles. Most of these are ultimately bad for the environment because they affect overconsumption; better phones, chips, and consoles make older ones obsolete, forcing us to buy the latest gadget. Fortunately, one of the most recent races for the tech industry is the need to build the greenest data centers.
The drive towards environmental sustainability stems from the progressive actions of environmental advocacy groups, such as Greenpeace. Rather than simply decreasing their energy consumption, Facebook, Apple, Google, and other tech giants are finding innovative and sustainable ways to power their companies.
Some companies verge on the extreme with their inventions. Google, for example, has found a way to use toilet water to keep some of its data centres cool. Most companies are more moderate with their investments, and are opting to use renewable and alternative energy sources instead of traditional fossil fuels.
One noteworthy example is Facebook’s Altoon, Iowa data centre. The electricity for the new data centre will be completely powered by wind turbines from Wellsburg, Iowa. The turbines are owned and operated by MidAmerican Energy, and will add up to 138 MW of new renewable energy to the Iowan grid after its construction in 2015.
Interestingly, the data centre and wind farm are an intentional, joint effort by the social media giant to decrease the local area’s environmental footprint. Through initiatives such as the Iowa data centre, renewable energy becomes more accessible for more people. It’s definitely become a win-win scenario for environmental activists, who want to see these industries supported on a more local level.
Another example is eBay’s fuel cell-powered data centre in Utah, which uses waste energy captured from a natural gas pipeline to generate much of its energy. In particular, the company will be using methane instead of coal and diesel. Methane has distinct advantages over traditional fossil fuels, including less carbon and particle emissions.
“Methane is definitely much more efficient, but the biggest thing I see from this announcement is that it shows more innovations and potential for disruption from an IT industry leader,” said Gary Cook, a Greenpeace IT analyst. “It could be a very hopeful advancement in places like Wyoming and Utah where the grid is very dirty.”
This competition to build the greenest data centres and the smallest carbon footprint is definitely a step forward for the tech industry. However, we must not forget that many of their business practices promote the overconsumption of resources. It is a step, yes, but we still have a long way to go.