Some of my prior blogs have discussed the opportunity for society to solve some of our planet’s environmental challenges, by more effectively harnessing advances in technology. New academic research is emerging which helps clarify some of these opportunities.I recently had the opportunity to read 3 new whitepapers from Dr. Jonathan Koomey, research scientist with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Stanford University, and starting this fall, with Yale University. You should be aware that while Intel and Microsoft provided financial support for this particular set of research, Dr. Koomey’s papers represent his own views. This trilogy of papers is noteworthy in that they discuss 3 inter-related trends, which I think have implications for how society manages its stewardship of both technology and the environment. Trend #1: Continuous advancement of computational energy efficiency, in terms of Computations per Watt of energy used. Trend #2: The consolidation of computers into powerful, large scale computing utility centers, which can be accessed anywhere, a.k.a. Cloud Computing. Trend #3: The effective harnessing of computer technologies to achieve improved net environmental outcomes, including Carbon Reduction and De-materialization. “Assessing Trends in the Electrical Efficiency of Computation Over Time” outlines the forces that have driven decades of historical, and expected future improvements, in the energy efficiency of computers. “Assessing Trends Over Time in Performance, Cost, and Energy Use of Servers” outlines the technological and economic forces that are driving the consolidation of computing resources into large scale, highly dense mega-data centers, a.k.a. cloud computing. “The Energy and Climate Change Impact of Different Music Delivery Methods” studies how society is harnessing new computing technologies, including mega-data centers, for economic and convenience reasons, while creating interesting environmental net outcomes. Dr, Koomey’s research is both illuminating and provocative. Some questions for continued discussion and ongoing research include: What are the environmental consequences of substituting one type of technology with another? Where is driving the trend towards “cloud computing”? Is technological progress a threat to, or ally of, the environment? How does the answer depend on the technology, and how it is utilized? Among other places, Dr. Koomey’s latest research can be found here. I encourage you to read all three (or at least one) of the papers, then come back and join the conversation on these topics, by posting a comment below.
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