Knowing more about a situation can allow you to address it more efficiently. That’s one of the promises of the Internet of Things. Whether it’s the precision application of water and fertilizer in agriculture or a smartphone app that lets you adjust your thermostat at home if your plans change, knowledge becomes power saved so long as we have the means to act on that knowledge.
But all that energy-saving knowledge can take a lot of energy to store, distribute and access. In fact, data centers, which you can think of as the little men behind the curtain that we now know as “the cloud,” suck up a great deal of energy. In 2013, they consumed a staggering 91 billion kWh in the U.S. alone. That’s enough to power every household in New York City. That amount is expected to grow by half again by 2020.
A number of efforts have been made to reduce the impact of these data centers, both by using renewable energy to drive them and to improve their efficiency. Earlier this year Apple announced plans to spend $2 billion on a solar “command center” in Arizona. Nearby solar plants with 70MW of generation capacity are expected to meet 100 percent of the energy required to run the center.
Opportunities to improve the efficiency of data centers also have received a lot of attention and innovation. The servers tend to run hot, which is why more than half of the power they use is devoted to cooling. System architecture studies reveal more opportunities to save energy everywhere from the silicon to the OS to the applications through the infrastructure and all the way to the building. Studies call for the consolidation of metrics, a streamline decision-making process that aligns incentives with investors, and disclosure of performance data.
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