According to a new report by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), U.S. data centers are using more electricity than they actually need — in effect, making them the “new polluters.” The study additionally found that businesses were ultimately, at this point, not willing to invest in efficiency.
Many servers are drawing power without actually doing anything — about 30% of all U.S. servers, in fact, are essentially “zombies.” And millions more servers are running at only 10 to 15% capacity.
In order to power all the data plants currently in operation in America, 34 power plants are needed. Each plant can generate 500 megawatts of electricity. By the year 2020, experts expect that yet another 17 plants will be needed in order to accommodate future energy needs as more companies digitize their daily operations.
How much energy is this, exactly? The report says that the 91 billion kilowatt-hours of energy used by U.S. data facilities last year could have collectively “powered all of New York City’s households twice over and growing.”
The NRDC notes that there was a notable distinction between larger data centers — which account for about 5% of total energy usage — and the smaller, much less efficient centers. The study says that the first group of “ultra-efficient data centers” are not the issue — rather, the issue is the many thousands of smaller operations that are coasting along using inefficient energy practices.
In fact, if small data centers were to operate at the efficiency rates of larger, better facilities, then there would be an overall 40% decrease in how much energy is used — and this would ultimately save businesses about $3.8 billion in energy savings, a not insubstantial sum.
Part of the issue is that IT managers are very cautious when it comes to implementing the types of changes that could ultimately increase efficiency. They don’t want to risk uptime in the process. Additionally, the current pricing model that data centers tend to use — charging by the rack or by footage, with fees that kick in when businesses go beyond their power limit — doesn’t always offer them incentive to operate efficiently.
If data centers do nothing about their energy efficiency problem, then energy consumption by said centers will reach approximately 140 billion kilowatt-hours by 2020.