Image courtesy of CMP73 via flickr
While they still only account for a minute fraction of total yearly emissions, the carbon emissions produced by computers have been on the rise - buffeted by the likes of Google and other computing-heavy firms - and are set to increase dramatically over the coming decades. However, because computing power need not be centrally located to achieve its functions, server farms could potentially be moved to areas where renewable energy - in the form of wind or solar - is plentiful to mitigate their carbon footprint.
That was the point made by Andy Hopper, a computer expert at Cambridge University, at a recent Royal Society meeting in London. Speaking to The Guardian's James Randerson, he said that computing power could "be moved around the world and can be done anywhere in the world where energy is available."Hopper supports a scheme under which servers would be migrated to areas close to wind farms or solar panels working at full tilt; dependant on their demand, operators could call upon a global network of energy producers to supply power precisely where and when needed. As Hopper explained, such a scheme would help minimize many of the inefficiencies associated with a national grid and provide a "more efficient, more appropriate, cheaper" way to consume energy "in situ."
With the rise of cloud computing and more and more computer manufacturers and users moving to lower their emissions, similar schemes are likely to gain steam in the near future; servers could eventually become one of the first major technologies to rely mostly on renewable energy sources.