While Netflix and Amazon scored terribly on Greenpeace’s “Clicking Clean” report, they may have something to learn from Microsoft’s patented underwater datacenter
On Tuesday, Greenpeace released its yearly “Clicking Clean” report, and if you’re concerned about your carbon footprint, prepare to give some of your favorite digital streaming services the side eye.
Internet browsing, social media, and communication (IM, email, video calls, etc.) used to be the rulers of electronically-fueled data consumption, but a new champion has emerged: video streaming. In 2015, our desire for Netflix binges and falling down YouTube rabbit holes accounted for 70% of the world’s internet traffic. By 2020, video streaming will be responsible for 82% of the global community’s internet use, meaning that watching all 10 seasons of Friends and laughing at gamers’ commentary-laced shenanigans will be responsible for consuming statistically significant amounts of global electricity.
Energy consumption itself isn’t an automatic evil, so don’t pack up and head out to your hermit cave just yet. What really matters is the type of power being consumed, and mainly whether it’s renewable. While major players like Apple, Facebook, and Google are acing their environmentally friendly report cards, Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu (earning a C, D, and F, respectively) are going to get the “I’m very disappointed in you” speech from their parents—or at least their more environmentally conscious consumers.
Fortunately for the planet, conscious consumer numbers are not small. A 2015 report by Cone Communications and Ebiquity Global shows that 84% of global consumers purchase from environmentally or socially responsible companies whenever possible, and 90% of global consumers say that given similar price and quality, they choose the brand associated with being more socially or environmentally responsible. Basically, big tech companies need to get on the environmental ball.
Perhaps some of the video streaming slackers could take inspiration from Microsoft. Not only has this normal C student worked its way up to a B this year by offering up more transparency and distancing itself from prior claims that its data centers were already using 100% renewable energy, it also has been thinking outside the green box — or more specifically, under it.
In late 2014, Microsoft launched Project Natick, a “research project to manufacture and operate an underwater datacenter.” In 2015, the Leona Philpot — an underwater, unmanned datacenter prototype with a name some hardcore Halo fans might recognize — spent three successful months on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, about half a mile from shore. On December 29, 2016, two Microsoft patents were published: “Artificial Reef Datacenter” and “Intrusion Detection for Submerged Datacenters.” Apparently, Microsoft liked what it saw and is forging ahead.
Not only would these submerged data centers be more energy efficient than their land counterparts — the cold of the deep seas reduces cooling needs and a lack of personnel means no lights, oxygen, or creature comforts required — they also make powering the servers inside them with nice, renewable hydrokinetic energy a possibility. Since Microsoft’s decision to have the data centers “provide for an apparatus for actively promoting marine life,” the company has done more than design a data center that doesn’t harm its environment; they’ve designed one that benefits and contributes to it as well.
This year, maybe Netflix can try chilling under water.