Efficiency & Environmental Impact Research by Jonathan Koomey

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Efficiency & Environmental Impact Research by Jonathan Koomey

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Intel and Microsoft released a series of unique research studies, co-written by Jonathan Koomey visiting professor at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and an expert in energy conservation technology, economics, policy and global climate change.

As more consumers come online and use computers and technology that connect to the Internet, there is concern over the efficiency of these applications and the cumulative effect on energy consumption around the globe.

Usage trends such as increases in the availability of broadband Internet and consolidation of computing resources into massive data centers or cloud computing facilities, only serve to increase concern over the environmental footprint of computing technology.

However, the technology industry innovates at a pace to keep up with these trends, enabling advances in energy efficiency of computers, the data centers and the backbone infrastructure that powers the Internet. Our research shows that this trend has continued for more than 65 years, with computers becoming more efficient as time goes on.

Therefore, computing technology can actually enable carbon reduction of various other industries through dematerialization and energy efficient performance.

Here are the white papers:

  • Energy and climate change impact of different music delivery methods.
  • Assessing trends in the electrical efficiency of computation over time.
  • Assessing trends over time in performance, costs, and energy use for servers.
  • Downloads are much more environmentally-friendly than buying CDs.

    The research compares the energy and CO2 emissions associated with downloading music to those from buying a physical CD, concluding that downloading music yields 40-80% reductions compared to buying a CD. These findings demonstrate one concrete example of effectively using technology for improved environmental outcomes, i.e., the benefits of dematerialization using IT.

    When focusing on the energy used by data centers, it’s easy to forget that these facilities enable us to create efficiencies in other parts of society. In fact, even though overall compute consumption is on the rise, in a second paper, Koomey’s research points to the economic advantages of migrating computational activity to large-scale, or cloud, computing – further showcasing the merits of dematerialization and distributed computing across industries outside technology.

    These factors become increasingly important as government regulations, such as the Waxman-Markey bill, come forward; it may be more productive to reward or incentivize, rather than regulate, technologies that can improve the environment and help consumers make smarter choices, such as choosing to download their music.

    Long term trends in the electrical efficiency of computation imply that mobile devices will rapidly become much more power-efficient and more ubiquitous.

    The research on the long term trends in the electrical efficiency of computation, imply that mobile devices will rapidly become much more power-efficient and ubiquitous. In fact, the energy efficiency of computation has doubled about every 1.6 years since 1945 with remarkable constancy – a trend that has important implications for mobile computing technologies.

    Innovations for typical compute devices, such as desktops and laptops, are driven by consumers’ need for more compute power and, per the data, the efficiency of these devices will continue to improve over time; in comparison, mobile device innovations are constrained by battery limitations and compute power suffers.

    However, the research shows that in 1.6 years, any given task will use half the compute power it currently requires, meaning that an increase in performance and reduction in power use over time will enable mobile devices to become smaller and less power-consuming, making many more mobile computing applications feasible.

    The trends become especially promising for ultra-distributed, small-scale computing devices, such as sensor technology. And, if the technology industry can maintain or increase this rate of efficiency and performance trending in the research, it may likely enable new classes of mobile devices with endless use cases.

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