The Internet as SUV

Courtesy of friend of the firm Bill St. Arnaud, Canada’s leading voice on green information technologies, we learn this past month that, if the Internet were a country, it would be the world’s fifth largest energy consumer, and that fact has drawn a bunch of focus to the energy mix in regions with burgeoning data centres, especially in the southern United States. Bill (and Greenpeace) reminds us that, while the “cloud” sounds benign, it isn’t all fluffy white and blue skies, at least where big data players continue to seek out low-cost data centres whose energy mix relies on coal and other so-called ‘dirty’ production.  What’s the answer? As always, we look to Google, and its recent big investments in alternative energies (especially wind power) and projects. Its bet confirms that technologies and regulatory stimulus that focus on energy efficiency likely miss the point entirely, and founders should cautiously jump on the efficiency bandwagon in trying to ride the wave. Rather, locating data centres in areas where the energy mix is more balanced (or, in the case of Google, throwing your weight around to change that mix yourself), will ultimately achieve the greatest environmental effect. In this sense, with its solar profile and mature nuclear industry, Canada has at least a fighting chance at developing a competitive advantage, if it reaches out and grabs it. See the link attached for an update on recent pilot projects dabbling in the field, and feel free to contact Shane MacLean if you’d like our perspective on the current project financing environment in Ontario.

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