With a Carbon Footprint Like HPC’s, It Matters When and Where You Step

By Oliver Peckham

December 9, 2021

From European HPC experts pondering “can fast be green?” to new milestones on the Green500 list, sustainability certainly had a moment at the hybrid SC21 conference. And it’s no wonder: the exascale era is here, and power consumption for HPC is skyrocketing even as efficiency is driven to its extremes. At SC21, another session – “HPC’s Growing Sustainability Challenges and Emerging Approaches” – tackled the topic, bringing together experts across the HPC sector to discuss how the rapidly expanding field could control its energy use and emissions.

“The context is – as I’m sure you’re all aware – that there’s aggressive government goals to decarbonize their economies and reduce negative environmental impacts broadly, and computing is sort of in a special place in this,” explained the session’s host, Andrew Chien, a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. “Computing and HPC together have challenges around sustainability because of their rapidly proliferating use and very, very fast technology lifecycles.”

Chien was joined by Steve Hammond, a senior research advisor at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory; Bill Magro, chief technologist for HPC at Google; Michael McNamara, CEO and founder of Lancium; and Erik Riedel, senior vice president of engineering at ITRenew.

HPC has a big footprint.

“It’s actually particularly timely that we have this panel on sustainability,” Chien continued, “because [the international climate conference] COP26 has been going on, and maybe just completed … but entire economies – including of course HPC and computing – have made the commitment to get to net zero by various times, whether it’s 2050, 2060, or 2070.”

HPC, Chien continued, was not an insignificant slice of the pie: using the Top500 as a proxy, Chien said, researchers had estimated the systems’ aggregate energy load at around 600MW, or 5.2 terawatt-hours per year, with the top ten systems constituting around 100MW of that load. This, he said, would account for around two million metric tons of CO2 per year – equivalent to around 285,000 average households, and that only from 500 publicly-ranked systems.

And HPC’s footprint doesn’t stop at energy use (“scope two” emissions). “Scope three” emissions, which include embedded carbon from along the value chain, are also high for the sector. “We have the challenging practice of a fast-moving technology, which is that we dispose of our systems after a relatively short lifetime,” Chien said, noting that there was a “very, very significant amount of energy” corresponding to production of components for HPC systems (along with e-waste, of course).

Choosing when to step matters.

But, it turns out, with a big footprint, choosing when to step can be crucial. Normally, Chien said, computing loads are constant, making it hard to go carbon-free as the power grids hosting those computing loads fluctuate in terms of carbon intensity throughout the day. To that end, Chien detailed a project he had been working on called zero-carbon cloud (ZCCloud).

“Instead of having all of your datacenters as constant loads in the grid,” he said, “we might be able to have computing equipment modulate its consumption to the availability of excess renewable power.”

“If you take this study to its logical conclusion,” he continued, there are some “amazing opportunities.” The team had looked at workloads at Argonne for about a year, examining expected performance, throughput and energy use between a traditional, reliably-powered system and a system powered by intermittent renewable energy. The latter system, Chien said, “effectively eliminates 50 percent of the carbon emissions footprint for this aggregate computing system.”

“This approach – a holistic approach that looks at TCO from capital equipment on through operational costs and power and so on – could lead you to the conclusion that you could build a system with higher throughput per million dollars of TCO per year and … higher peak performance per million dollars of TCO per year. So this is in addition to the 50 percent emissions reduction.”

“If you look at this in the right way,” he concluded, “there may be opportunities that not only reduce the carbon emissions footprint, but also create new opportunities for new capability and even cost-effectiveness.”

Magro, in his talk, agreed with both the stated problem and the proposed solution. “Even if you want to commit to being carbon-free, the problem is there isn’t carbon-free energy available all day,” he said. “The energy supply is very spiky. … If you just present a stable load, then of course you can’t run carbon-free.”

Google, he explained, had moved away from constant loads in many cases as a way of combating this reality. “In our datacenters, we actually align with the availability of low-carbon energy and we compute more when the wind is blowing and when the sun is shining,” he said.

A simplified visualization of how Google adjusts its workloads based on renewable energy availability. Image courtesy of Bill Magro.

Choosing where to step matters.

But time isn’t the only variable in play – location matters, too. Hammond, who helps to manage the world’s most energy-efficient datacenter at NREL’s campus in Golden, Colorado, detailed the wide range of efficiency choices made to give the datacenter its stunning PUE of 1.036… with one major caveat. “No one approach fits every solution wherever you are,” he said. “What works for us here in Colorado may be different from what works in the Southeastern U.S.”

This, as it turns out, was the entire pitch for another speaker – McNamara – who flipped that idea on its head: what if regionally-specific sustainability considerations played a major role in siting workloads?

McNamara first outlined the characteristics of the modern (and future) power grid. First, he said, solar and wind were getting overbuilt to compensate for their intermittency; second, generation was no longer necessarily colocated to urban centers; and third, as a result of these trends, negative-priced energy – energy that renewable generators needed to offload, but for which there was not demand – was a growing problem.

“Negative-priced energy is now endemic,” he said. “And it’s endemic because the grid of the future has too much wind and solar. … The way to solve this problem is to build, at extremely large scale, many datacenters at critical points on the transmission system in every grid operator that is going decarbonized. Which is all of them.”

Negative pricing frequency, with Lancium’s target region circled. Image courtesy of Michael McNamara.

This, he said, was the pitch for his company, Lancium. “Our vision is: datacenters should act as enormous inverse power plants,” he said. “What power plants do is, when the grid is in times of need, power plants go up. The grid is indifferent if a power plant goes up or a datacenter goes down. … They consume negative-priced energy; the provide the grid inertia that the grid needs because of the retirement of fossil plants; and the net effect, if you run these in a highly flexible manner, is negative eight million tons [of carbon] a year if you build 5000MW of datacenters. And that’s in Texas alone. And that’s what we’re doing.”

McNamara said that this solution – which could, ostensibly, run massive workloads at zero energy cost – was preferable to costly, time-consuming transmission line upgrades and more foolproof than current storage solutions, which he said were good for about four hours. Further, he explained that costly sustainability solutions were not necessary in Lancium’s datacenters, which ran hot and “moved a ton of air.”

Hand-me-downs

But all of that, of course, only addresses the scope two emissions. Scope three emissions were an entirely different beast: “It boggles my mind how much we just have to throw away when we get a new system,” Hammond said. Riedel explained how his company, ITRenew, worked to decommission datacenter equipment for companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter, shredding hard drives and repurposing other equipment to give it a second life.

Chien, earlier in the panel, had pitched this same notion, outlining how datacenter operators could deploy phased-out hardware at a secondary facility with low-cost, on-site renewable energy for another few years. This, he said, would be a win-win-win: low-cost equipment, low-cost energy and lower (annualized) embedded emissions thanks to longer lifetimes for the components.

More sustainability coverage from SC21

At SC21, Experts Ask: Can Fast HPC Be Green?

The Green500’s Crystal Anniversary Sees MN-3 Crystallize Its Winning Streak

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Meta’s Massive New AI Supercomputer Will Be ‘World’s Fastest’

January 24, 2022

Fresh off its rebrand last October, Meta (née Facebook) is putting muscle behind its vision of a metaversal future with a massive new AI supercomputer called the AI Research SuperCluster (RSC). Meta says that RSC will b Read more…

Supercomputer Analysis Shows the Atmospheric Reach of the Tonga Eruption

January 21, 2022

On Saturday, an enormous eruption on the volcanic islands of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Haʻapai shook the Pacific Ocean. The explosion, which could be heard six thousand miles away in Alaska, caused tsunamis across the entir Read more…

NSB Issues US State of Science and Engineering 2022 Report

January 20, 2022

This week the National Science Board released its biannual U.S. State of Science and Engineering 2022 report, as required by the NSF Act. Broadly, the report presents a near-term view of S&E based mostly on 2019 data. To a large extent, this year’s edition echoes trends from the last few reports. The U.S. is still a world leader in R&D spending and S&E education... Read more…

Researchers Achieve 99 Percent Quantum Accuracy with Silicon-Embedded Qubits 

January 20, 2022

Researchers in Australia and the U.S. have made exciting headway in the quantum computing arms race. A multi-institutional team including the University of New South Wales and Sandia National Laboratory announced that th Read more…

Trio of Supercomputers Powers Estimate of Carbon in Earth’s Outer Core

January 20, 2022

Carbon is one of the essential building blocks of life on Earth, and it—along with hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen—is one of the key elements researchers look for when they search for habitable planets and work to unde Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

shutterstock 718231072

Accelerating drug discovery with Amazon EC2 Spot Instances

This post was contributed by Cristian Măgherușan-Stanciu, Sr. Specialist Solution Architect, EC2 Spot, with contributions from Cristian Kniep, Sr. Developer Advocate for HPC and AWS Batch at AWS, Carlos Manzanedo Rueda, Principal Solutions Architect, EC2 Spot at AWS, Ludvig Nordstrom, Principal Solutions Architect at AWS, Vytautas Gapsys, project group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, and Carsten Kutzner, staff scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. Read more…

Multiverse Targets ‘Quantum Computing for the Masses’

January 19, 2022

The race to deliver quantum computing solutions that shield users from the underlying complexity of quantum computing is heating up quickly. One example is Multiverse Computing, a European company, which today launched the second financial services product in its Singularity product group. The new offering, Fair Price, “delivers a higher accuracy in fair price calculations for financial... Read more…

Meta’s Massive New AI Supercomputer Will Be ‘World’s Fastest’

January 24, 2022

Fresh off its rebrand last October, Meta (née Facebook) is putting muscle behind its vision of a metaversal future with a massive new AI supercomputer called t Read more…

Supercomputer Analysis Shows the Atmospheric Reach of the Tonga Eruption

January 21, 2022

On Saturday, an enormous eruption on the volcanic islands of Hunga Tonga and Hunga Haʻapai shook the Pacific Ocean. The explosion, which could be heard six tho Read more…

NSB Issues US State of Science and Engineering 2022 Report

January 20, 2022

This week the National Science Board released its biannual U.S. State of Science and Engineering 2022 report, as required by the NSF Act. Broadly, the report presents a near-term view of S&E based mostly on 2019 data. To a large extent, this year’s edition echoes trends from the last few reports. The U.S. is still a world leader in R&D spending and S&E education... Read more…

Multiverse Targets ‘Quantum Computing for the Masses’

January 19, 2022

The race to deliver quantum computing solutions that shield users from the underlying complexity of quantum computing is heating up quickly. One example is Multiverse Computing, a European company, which today launched the second financial services product in its Singularity product group. The new offering, Fair Price, “delivers a higher accuracy in fair price calculations for financial... Read more…

Students at SC21: Out in Front, Alongside and Behind the Scenes

January 19, 2022

The Supercomputing Conference (SC) is one of the biggest international conferences dedicated to high-performance computing, networking, storage and analysis. SC Read more…

Q-Ctrl – Tackling Quantum Hardware’s Noise Problems with Software

January 13, 2022

Implementing effective error mitigation and correction is a critical next step in advancing quantum computing. While a lot of attention has been given to effort Read more…

Nvidia Defends Arm Acquisition Deal: a ‘Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity’

January 13, 2022

GPU-maker Nvidia is continuing to try to keep its proposed acquisition of British chip IP vendor Arm Ltd. alive, despite continuing concerns from several governments around the world. In its latest action, Nvidia filed a 29-page response to the U.K. government to point out a list of potential benefits of the proposed $40 billion deal. Read more…

Nvidia Buys HPC Cluster Management Company Bright Computing

January 10, 2022

Graphics chip powerhouse Nvidia today announced that it has acquired HPC cluster management company Bright Computing for an undisclosed sum. Unlike Nvidia’s bid to purchase semiconductor IP company Arm, which has been stymied by regulatory challenges, the Bright deal is a straightforward acquisition that aims to expand... Read more…

IonQ Is First Quantum Startup to Go Public; Will It be First to Deliver Profits?

November 3, 2021

On October 1 of this year, IonQ became the first pure-play quantum computing start-up to go public. At this writing, the stock (NYSE: IONQ) was around $15 and its market capitalization was roughly $2.89 billion. Co-founder and chief scientist Chris Monroe says it was fun to have a few of the company’s roughly 100 employees travel to New York to ring the opening bell of the New York Stock... Read more…

US Closes in on Exascale: Frontier Installation Is Underway

September 29, 2021

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, held by Zoom this week (Sept. 29-30), it was revealed that the Frontier supercomputer is currently being installed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The staff at the Oak Ridge Leadership... Read more…

AMD Launches Milan-X CPU with 3D V-Cache and Multichip Instinct MI200 GPU

November 8, 2021

At a virtual event this morning, AMD CEO Lisa Su unveiled the company’s latest and much-anticipated server products: the new Milan-X CPU, which leverages AMD’s new 3D V-Cache technology; and its new Instinct MI200 GPU, which provides up to 220 compute units across two Infinity Fabric-connected dies, delivering an astounding 47.9 peak double-precision teraflops. “We're in a high-performance computing megacycle, driven by the growing need to deploy additional compute performance... Read more…

Intel Reorgs HPC Group, Creates Two ‘Super Compute’ Groups

October 15, 2021

Following on changes made in June that moved Intel’s HPC unit out of the Data Platform Group and into the newly created Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics (AXG) business unit, led by Raja Koduri, Intel is making further updates to the HPC group and announcing... Read more…

Nvidia Buys HPC Cluster Management Company Bright Computing

January 10, 2022

Graphics chip powerhouse Nvidia today announced that it has acquired HPC cluster management company Bright Computing for an undisclosed sum. Unlike Nvidia’s bid to purchase semiconductor IP company Arm, which has been stymied by regulatory challenges, the Bright deal is a straightforward acquisition that aims to expand... Read more…

D-Wave Embraces Gate-Based Quantum Computing; Charts Path Forward

October 21, 2021

Earlier this month D-Wave Systems, the quantum computing pioneer that has long championed quantum annealing-based quantum computing (and sometimes taken heat fo Read more…

Killer Instinct: AMD’s Multi-Chip MI200 GPU Readies for a Major Global Debut

October 21, 2021

AMD’s next-generation supercomputer GPU is on its way – and by all appearances, it’s about to make a name for itself. The AMD Radeon Instinct MI200 GPU (a successor to the MI100) will, over the next year, begin to power three massive systems on three continents: the United States’ exascale Frontier system; the European Union’s pre-exascale LUMI system; and Australia’s petascale Setonix system. Read more…

Three Chinese Exascale Systems Detailed at SC21: Two Operational and One Delayed

November 24, 2021

Details about two previously rumored Chinese exascale systems came to light during last week’s SC21 proceedings. Asked about these systems during the Top500 media briefing on Monday, Nov. 15, list author and co-founder Jack Dongarra indicated he was aware of some very impressive results, but withheld comment when asked directly if he had... Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Lessons from LLVM: An SC21 Fireside Chat with Chris Lattner

December 27, 2021

Today, the LLVM compiler infrastructure world is essentially inescapable in HPC. But back in the 2000 timeframe, LLVM (low level virtual machine) was just getting its start as a new way of thinking about how to overcome shortcomings in the Java Virtual Machine. At the time, Chris Lattner was a graduate student of... Read more…

2021 Gordon Bell Prize Goes to Exascale-Powered Quantum Supremacy Challenge

November 18, 2021

Today at the hybrid virtual/in-person SC21 conference, the organizers announced the winners of the 2021 ACM Gordon Bell Prize: a team of Chinese researchers leveraging the new exascale Sunway system to simulate quantum circuits. The Gordon Bell Prize, which comes with an award of $10,000 courtesy of HPC pioneer Gordon Bell, is awarded annually... Read more…

Nvidia Defends Arm Acquisition Deal: a ‘Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity’

January 13, 2022

GPU-maker Nvidia is continuing to try to keep its proposed acquisition of British chip IP vendor Arm Ltd. alive, despite continuing concerns from several governments around the world. In its latest action, Nvidia filed a 29-page response to the U.K. government to point out a list of potential benefits of the proposed $40 billion deal. Read more…

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

Top500: No Exascale, Fugaku Still Reigns, Polaris Debuts at #12

November 15, 2021

No exascale for you* -- at least, not within the High-Performance Linpack (HPL) territory of the latest Top500 list, issued today from the 33rd annual Supercomputing Conference (SC21), held in-person in St. Louis, Mo., and virtually, from Nov. 14–19. "We were hoping to have the first exascale system on this list but that didn’t happen," said Top500 co-author... Read more…

TACC Unveils Lonestar6 Supercomputer

November 1, 2021

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is unveiling its latest supercomputer: Lonestar6, a three peak petaflops Dell system aimed at supporting researchers Read more…

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

Intel Launches 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ Datacenter CPU with Up to 40 Cores

April 6, 2021

The wait is over. Today Intel officially launched its 10nm datacenter CPU, the third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor, codenamed Ice Lake. With up to 40 Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire