Power cut threats could be reduced by cloud computing adoption

Electricity metre
Electricity metre

There are concerns that the UK could be facing a power crisis, is cloud computing a way out?

Would you welcome a winter of power cuts? Doing work by candlelight? Reading by Tilley lamps? A baby boom nine months down the line? No TV? No floodlit football? .. the horror, the horror.

This is not fanciful science-fiction (well, apart from the baby boom, that’s false) nor a re-run of the 1970s but the future for the UK, according to warnings from Ofgem. The regulator has warned there could be energy shortages within the next few years as the UK has failed to replace old coal-fired power stations with newer plants powered by alternative technologies or nuclear fuels.

Ofgem also believes that UK consumers are not shifting to greener appliances in great numbers – or any numbers at all judging by the backlash against energy-saving light-bulbs. And Ed Davey, the energy secretary shares these concerns, saying that “Without timely action there would be risks to security of supply.”

So, what’s going to save our hides? But could cloud computing be the way forward for a more energy-efficient future?  According to a report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Northwestern University, it could. The report suggests there could be a massive reduction in power consumption if there was concomitant massive move to cloud.

According to the survey, reported by Daily Fusion, moving just three software applications - email, customer relationship management software, or CRM, and bundled productivity software (spreadsheets, file sharing, word processing - from local computer systems to centralised cloud services could cut IT energy consumption by up to 87 percent. That’s some serious saving.

There could be a massive reduction in power consumption if there was concomitant massive move to cloud

And we can’t waste time on this says Northwestern's Eric Masanet, the main author of the report. "We can't fly by the seat of our pants when it comes to assessing sustainability. We need numbers - hard data,” he says. Well-thought-out analysis is especially important with new technology, which can have unforeseen effects. Our public model allows us to look forward and make informed decisions. What we found overall is that by hosting services on the cloud as opposed to locally, the savings are pretty robust."

That’s pretty clear then – although there’s been plenty of debate around this already, with Greenpeace claiming the move to cloud is actually worse for the environment – although that report focuses on the sustainability of data centres, rather than cloud computing itself.

There’s a recognition that data centres need to be more efficient. Many companies are looking at cooling techniques; debating whether ambient data centre temperatures can be raised or whether data centres can be moved to more sustainable areas.  Just this week, the European Commission announced Cool Em All, a new initiative to conduct research into greener data centres – so there’s a general recognition of the importance.

The best way forward is a coordinated approach: a wholesale and concerted shift to cloud; a revamped approach to data centre construction and design and a shift in personal responsibility – more energy-efficient products and a greater willingness to turn the lights and unused equipment off.

Only then could we avoid the full horror of large-scale power outages: schools, factories and offices closed; an end to live sport; no soap opera or Big Brother on telly … ah, even power shortages have their good points.

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