You are reading this, so you are using the internet, as are the vast majority of people in the U.S. But many users don’t think about the energy use involved in receiving that information and data.
Data centers are large buildings that contain networked computer equipment, such as servers, routers, and storage, that businesses and organizations use to organize, process, store, and distribute large amounts of information. All of that equipment uses a large amount of energy around the clock, and the buildings housing it must also be cooled. Since 2010, the number of internet users worldwide has doubled while global internet traffic has grown by about 30 percent each year. Global internet traffic is expected to double by 2022 while the number of mobile internet users is projected to increase from 3.8 billion in 2019 to 5 billion by 2025, according to the International Energy Agency. Most internet traffic goes through data centers, driving exponential growth in the need for data and network centers. Data centers account for almost 1 percent of the world’s electricity demand and finding ways to make them more energy-efficient becomes critical as the need for data services increases. The IEA found in a 2020 tracking paper that the growth in demand for data center services is more the most part being offset by ongoing efficiency improvements for servers, storage devices, network switches, and infrastructure, as well as a shift to much more cloud and hyperscale data centers. “Between 2010 and 2018, data center computing grew by 500 percent, while data center energy use only grew by six percent. ENERGY STAR played a significant role in this progress, but much more is required as digital computing data needs continue to grow rapidly,” said a press release from the Environmental Protection Agency, announcing expanded efforts to improve their energy efficiency through updated specifications for data center storage products and updated scoring to obtain ENERGY STAR certification. ENERGY STAR is an EPA program that promotes energy efficiency by providing information on the energy consumption of various products using standardized methods. It certifies products, such as appliances and electronic devices, allowing consumers to easily choose energy-efficient models. “Data centers are one of the most energy-intensive building types, consuming 10 to 50 times more energy per square foot than a typical office building,” the press release states, and with their continued rapid growth, ensuring they are as energy efficient as possible will continue to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.