Old world, meet new worldThe internet is a wonderful human achievement, connecting everybody to everybody else, and giving them access to most of the world's information at such a low cost that millions of people who can't afford much else still have internet access on their inexpensive smartphone. But behind the scenes, making this all happens requires countless servers hosted in large energy-hungry datacenters. If we want to make the internet sustainable from an environmental point of view, making sure that this backroom infrastructure pollutes as little as possible is an obvious first step.
Thankfully, many internet giants have started working on this very problem, as I wrote about in: How green is the internet? Which online giants are cleanest and dirtiest?.
Google, probably the company with the most internet servers in the world, has recently announced a new project that has a very nice symbolic angle. They're going to build a new datacenter in Alabama, which will by their 14th site globally. But they're not going to just build it in any regular spot; they will be taking over the Widows Creek Plant, a shut down coal power plant located on Guntersville Reservoir on the Tennessee River, in northeast Alabama, and convert the location to host this vital part of the internet infrastructure. Widows Creek began operating in 1952, so it wasn't exactly a modern facility.
It makes more sense than it might first seem: Datacenters require a lot of power, so they need high-capacity connectivity to the grid. Few places are as well connected as power plants... "Decades of investment shouldn’t go to waste just because a site has closed; we can repurpose existing electric and other infrastructure to make sure our data centers are reliably serving our users around the world," writes Google.
What makes this extra-interesting is that the former-coal-plant-turned-datacenter will be powered by renewable energy. Google will work with the local utility to scout new renewable energy project. This is part of the company's wider goal of being 100% clean-powered (they are currently at about 35%).
But of course, as Google rightly points out, the cleanest energy is the energy you don’t use. They write:
Our Alabama data center will incorporate our state-of-the-art energy efficiency technologies. We’ve built our own super-efficient servers, invented more efficient ways to cool our data centers, and even used advanced machine learning to squeeze more out of every watt of power we consume. Compared to five years ago, we now get 3.5 times the computing power out of the same amount of energy.
Construction is expected to begin in 2016.