I thought I was done blogging on why we need solar – after all, climate politics, toxic plankton and geopolitical conquest seem like reason enough. But on Tuesday, Greenpeace released a report called “Make IT Green” about the Dark Side of “cloud computing” (the dreamy new term of art for the internet).
The IT industry has a reputation for striving to be clean and green. But the truth is, the internet is powered by coal. That’s because electronic data is stored in massive, energy-sucking server farms and data centers. Although Google is taking steps to green its power mix by becoming a wholesale electricity buyer, other industry giants tend to site their data centers wherever electricity is cheapest-and that usually means in areas served by coal-fired power plants.
The IT industry generates two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. With the cloud expected to grow dramatically in the years ahead, Greenpeace calls on the IT industry to reduce its emissions 25% to 40% by 2020 (aka “The Year of the Cloud”). It can achieve this only if it uses its enormous financial leverage and growing political power to increase the mix of renewable sources of electricity. As a residential solar installer, Sungevity can’t offer to adorn the roofs of their server farms with solar panels, but we certainly join with Greenpeace in urging these companies to tap the exploding renewable energy sector instead of following a business (i.e. coal)-as-usual model.
And there you have it-Reason No. 4 why we need solar: As the number of PCs and modems and cell phones explodes, so too must the number of photovoltaics, or all the “smart grids” in the world won’t save us.