The amount of data we capture and store doubles every 1.2 years roughly, and with that, so do energy costs. In order to mitigate risks posed by future energy cost variations, we must look at current and future markets of both data centres and energy suppliers.
Fossil fuel reserves are declining at an alarming rate. In the UK we use the equivalent of over 11 billion tonnes of oil in fossil fuels per year, and it is expected that the oil deposit will be gone by 2052, a much earlier stage than predicted. At present, 976 grams of CO2 is produced per $1 of GDP. For this production level to be sustainable, CO2 would need to drop to just 6 grams, which means relying on green, renewable energy to reduce the carbon footprint.
The benefits of making the switch to renewable energy make it seem like a no-brainer, but it comes down to the issue of cost. In Britain, electricity from wind farms costs twice as much as that from traditional sources. Solar power is even more expensive. While relatively cheap to run, it is building the infrastructure that has a large impact.
So where does the data centre come into all this?
While many people remain blissfully unaware of the internet’s carbon footprint, the data centre stands as the internet’s dirty little energy-hungry secret. Behind all those ones and zeroes transferring half a petabyte of data every minute are data centres that account for 3% of all global electricity production. Or as an alternative look at it; 200 million metric tons of CO2, and that figure is growing.
It has been labelled an energy crisis. In March 2014, Greenpeace released a report claiming that a centralised European super-grid could allow the EU to reach a 45% renewable energy share by 2030. However, there is only so much that can be done at an EU governance level. It is down to the member states to improve their own network infrastructure for this to work, and that means upfront capital. Plenty of it.
At present, the UK employs submarine electrical cables linking us to Ireland, France and The Netherlands. However, the capacity of these cables remains at less than 5% of the entire electrical capacity of Britain. This makes importing energy from a panEuropean super-grid a low possibility, and even fewer opportunities to export.