Cloud computing requires a lot of power. And I mean a lot.
In 2014, Google claimed to have used 4,400 GWh of electricity to power its global network of data centres and associated infrastructure. To put that in context, the corporation’s consumption was, at that time, equivalent to 376,310 UK households (give or take), or the average consumption of 865,000 Brits. That sounds like a lot (and you’d be right) – but it isn’t even scratching the surface.
Figures on global data centre consumption vary quite significantly. The Independent suggested a figure of 416.2 terawatt-hours across the world in 2015 – around 30% greater the entire power consumption needs of the UK, or the equivalent of 95 Googles. And, quite obviously, it’s growing. Fast. 10-15% annual growth in data centre capacity is projected without any real end in sight.
Google and Facebook have led the way in promoting an environmentally friendly approach to accommodate their inevitable and monumental growth. Both invested in cold-location data centres in Finland and Sweden respectively – taking advantage of the environment for advanced cooling systems to maintain low ambient temperatures. But access to renewable energy sources is another key factor.
Corporate Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) are on the rise, in a big way. Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and other household names have jumped at the opportunity (and the necessity) to deliver energy of their own to gain energy security and meet environmental targets on the back of their own incessant demand growth. For such intense users of electricity, the management of power cost is an important financial vehicle and cloud computing services look to reduce variation in commercial energy costs by digging in and investing early.
Technology advancement means the cost of solar and renewables has plummeted by 80% and 60% respectively and Google’s strategy to move to renewable energy is on track. With 44% of their energy generated from renewable sources in 2015, this week they announced the target is set to meet 100% of their electricity needs through sustainable sources in 2017. Major cloud providers recognise the challenge, and all the big names are investing in the future of energy supply. Data centre growth expectations need to run in parallel to sustainable energy investment to ensure a clean, energy-secure global cloud platform.
Large scale corporate energy purchasing, infrastructure development and the quest for secure, renewable energy supplies is hot topic right now. Google Energy have paved a path for others to follow. And follow they must.