So computers are everywhere. In our watches, our cookers, our cars, and, I suspect, in quite a few people at my office. Have you ever thought about how much energy they use? When you sit at your office laptop, innocently twittering about the difficulties of or doing furtive searches for it all seems to work on air and pixie dust, not vast server farms churning away in unmarked industrial units. (In fact, the very first search software bots were called angels, precisely because they seemed to work pretty much like those notoriously low-carbon messengers of the almighty.)
But the reality is sadly otherwise.The average British data centre, or computer room to you, uses than a city as big as Leicester. Data centres use about one per cent of all the electricity in the world, mostly just to keep cool.
And, sadly, there’s often an inverse relation between size and energy use, which means the tiny little mobile phone you’ve substituted for the brick you held to your ear ten years ago, uses tons more energy, not less.
Even the software that ensures you uses tons of power. And that’s just in the player itself, not counting the server farms. Though, to put the other case, somebody has just discovered that downloading is more energy efficient than going to buy a CD – but only if you drive to the store (this is American research, naturally), and don’t CD…
Perhaps it’s as well that the giant companies also have giant energy bills, because they now have good reason to try to cut them. Not just with low management tricks like more but with ever more wild and freaky notions. For instance, Yahoo now has a data centre powered by the of Niagara.
But with a bit of creativity, you can find energy in all kinds of places. The dance-powered been around for ages – but how about the air conditioner? You can even get power from putting in a type face.
In California, where they have a lot more solar power than we do to play with (specially this year, alas), there are solar-collecting windows that can even be bulletproofed for the (and let’s face it, which of us isn’t?) The very on those mega freeways and giant parking lots, a ready-made heat sink, is being hooked up via water pipes to heat things and cool things. There are even 21st century that can harvest the sun.
But all of this is still in the experimental stage. Meanwhile every time you Twit, text or send somebody a picture of the underside of your tongue, you’re using energy that could save a life. The best reason yet to ban Stephen Fry?