Facebook Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rise 35%, Thanks to 1 Billion Users

Enough checking Facebook already! The billion people who use Facebook pushed its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) up a whopping 35% in 2012 as the social media giant further extended its global reach.

But help may be at hand. A study from Microsoft shows that data center emissions could be slashed by as much as 99% using electricity market analytics.

And this research comes as a survey by Siemens, UBM Tech and Information Week Marketing Services finds that so much energy is being sucked up by Internet use that organizations are worried their data centers will run out of power, cooling, or space by the end of 2014

However, because of budget issues, most respondents are not planning to invest in new data centers, but are planning on upgrading existing facilities.

Data centers consume 1-2% of electricity in the US, and their emissions are growing fast. 

In 2012, Facebook was responsible for about 384,000 metric tons of GHG emissions, up from 275,000 in 2011, according to its annual report. This includes GHGs from data centers, office space, employee commuting and air travel, data center construction, and hardware transportation.

The company’s total energy use from office space, data centers and other facilities also grew about 35%, from 523 million kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2011 to 704 million kWh in 2012. 

Facebook says the growth in emissions parallels the grow in users, which means ever-expanding infrastructure. It is locating new data centers where they can either be extremely efficient – underground near the Arctic Circle-  or run on renewable energy, such as its running on wind in Iowa.

But there are other ways to address some of the ever-growing demands on data centers. 

In its research, Microsoft used electricity market analysis to help data centers coincide their highest energy-consuming computation with times of the greatest renewable energy generation. The analysis helps predict when electricity prices are lowest and when the highest point of renewable energy generation occur.

Moreover, because data centers are often networked across a number of locations, the intensive computation could be moved to areas of the grid where renewables currently provide large amounts of capacity.

Grid operators could offer price incentives to move computation to these “good” times or locations, based on the preferences of the customer or data center operator, Microsoft says.

This would will help reduce the overall carbon footprint associated with cloud computing.

Meanwhile, Adobe, eBay, Facebook, HP, Salesforce.com and Symantec have joined with Business for Social Responsibility to promote low-carbon power sourcing for data centers in the US.

The Future of Internet Power grouping will also help Internet companies work more effectively with policymakers and utilities, they say. Data center operators are investing in energy-efficient infrastructure and equipment to address this issue, but Internet companies must also address the source of electricity.

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