U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Advanced Manufacturing Office – Industrial Distributed Energy

Berkeley Lab Shows Strategies to Achieve Low-Carbon Data Centers

July 24, 2013

Because data centers are responsible for 1%–2% of the world's electricity use, they are the target of considerable research into how to reduce their carbon emissions. However, assessing the true carbon intensity of data centers has not been easy. A recent perspective in the journal Nature Climate Change, co-authored by a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher, proposes that energy models of data centers provide "actionable guidance" to policymakers. The perspective presents the results of one such model that offers a typical U.S. data center carbon footprint, and how much its footprint is reduced through different carbon management strategies.

The research suggests that the carbon footprint reduction resulting from managing the lifecycle of IT devices (through lifetime extension and recycling initiatives) is dwarfed by that of best practice energy efficiency in the data center. Best practice efficiency reduces the emissions from data centers during their operation, employing such strategies as using the most energy-efficient equipment available, as well as server virtualization and application consolidation, which together lead to higher utilization of each server's computing capacity. The research suggests that while using renewable electricity helps reduce data center carbon emissions, this strategy must be coupled with best practice efficiency. See the Berkeley Lab press release.