When we see oil slicks on the ocean or smoke stacks spewing out smoke we can easily identify that it is taking a toll on the environment. But we don’t recognize that the amount of energy we use when enjoying social media is hazardous to the environment, as well.
Here are some of the ways that social media and technology is making an environmental impact, and the solutions that tech companies are trying:
Social Media and Technology Need Energy
We’ve all done it – streamed video and binge watched movies, installed apps on our smartphone and shared pictures and videos on social media, unaware that the number of gigabytes of data we use, according to some experts, has about the same amount of environmental impact as the airline industry!
As smart devices become more prevalent in our lives with the internet of things, more and more data will be needed to operate these devices, and the demand for electricity will only increase.
It is not so much the individual devices as it is the servers that connect to them. Commonly thought of as “clouds” they actually exist as real-life data centers. They are huge stacks of servers that handle terabytes of data, and like your laptop, they get warm, but on a huge scale. Just cooling the servers takes massive amounts of power.
Solutions Are Needed
Our energy needs will be unsustainable by 2040, so finding solutions is crucial.
There is an acknowledgement that something must be done among the tech giants who eat up most of the data.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides cloud computing to other companies, and leads the way in cutting down on their power consumption. It exceeded 50 percent renewable energy usage in 2018 and has made a commitment in the long term to use only clean power sources like wind.
Digital Realty Has Cutting Edge Cooling
Digital Realty has a Toronto-area data center that can cool its machines for much of the year with fresh air-based systems that take outdoor air from the roof of the center’s building, and pushes it down to cool the server rooms. Canada has the kind of climate where this solution works.
Smarter Alloys Uses Heat as a Source of Renewable Energy
Smarter Alloys, named as a finalist for an Ontario clean energy prize, is developing a process that takes the heat emitted from large server facilities and makes it a possible source of renewable energy, in a cost-effective way that reduces carbon emissions.
Ranovus Takes a Different Approach
Ottawa based Ranovus looks at changing the data centers. They want to increase information transmission capacity so that the data centers don’t need as much energy.
It uses a “quantum dot multi-wavelength laser” to increase the speed and capacity of data transfers, which could reduce the energy needed for mass data transfers by 80 percent.
While it is true that the amount of electricity needed for all of our data needs is great and continues to increase, companies are using cutting edge solutions to lessen the environmental impact.