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April 14, 2010

Green IT Is for Real

Dan Gatti

When I think about all the hype for Green IT, I always ask myself, where is the beef? Or where is the real green as in greenbacks? When considering the following trends, I start to believe that Green IT is for real.

Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are deploying datacenters in the Columbia River Basin of Washington State in order to draw on renewable hydro-power, and places like British Columbia are promoting their hydro power. My friend Mike Hrybyk, president of BCNET, tells me how he is looking to harness the “green power” of BC Hydro.

CANARIE, the Ottawa-based agency that supervises standards for the Canadian Internet backbone, initiated a $3 million RFP, called the Green IT Pilot Program, to encourage zero-carbon datacenter deployments in Canada by 2011. I wonder what the impact will be on hockey rinks.

In the US, for the first time ever, new power capacity brought online from renewable energy sources in 2008 was greater than half — reaching 60 percent — thanks to solar, wind, hydro-dam, and geothermal. As recently as 2005, new renewable energy sources accounted for only 15 percent of marginal capacity.

The US government is spending $4 billion from its economic stimulus package on smart grid initiatives, which in my opinion, is a much better way to spend our tax dollars. Peak demand needs have exceeded current capacity (while electricity costs have skyrocketed), and the problem is expected to worsen in the US.

According to projections from the US Energy Information Administration, electricity generation around the world will nearly double from about 17.3 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2005 to 33.3 trillion kWh in 2030. In the case of the US, its power grid simply will not be able to keep up with the growth and demand for additional power using conventional means.

In the US, it’s estimated that reduction in peak demand by a mere five percent would yield savings of about $66 billion over 20 years — to say nothing of the resulting reduction in green house gas emissions that would accompany a five percent peak demand reduction. Now we are talking money and real greenbacks!

Over the last five years, no marginal power capacity has been added with nuclear plants due to prohibitive regulations and a general public opinion of “not in my backyard” — a trend likely to continue — so what does all this mean for IT and facilities professionals?

Green IT practices are more than just designing greener datacenters and installing the most energy-efficient IT equipment. IT and facilities professionals need to think about powering datacenters with renewable energy sources, such as windmill farms, hydro-dams, geothermal, or solar-powered sources. It’s no longer enough, nor cost-competitive, to focus solely on the energy efficiency of new IT gear.

Finally, energy rebates offered by utilities for green datacenters will be maximized when a more holistic approach is taken that considers IT equipment, facilities, and the actual sources of power.