Big data on a dead planet. The digital transition's neglected environmental impacts.
Study reveals huge environmental impact of data centres in Europe.
Europe needs a strong legally binding framework that forces data centres to increase their transparency on energy efficiency, use of renewables, and reuse of waste heat and water usage according to a new study published today by The Left group in the European Parliament.
Every year, expectations for data centre energy growth are exceeded by reality. In contrast, the share of energy consumption in the EU is comparatively low, the Joint Research Centre estimates that electricity demand from data centres will increase to 160 TWh by 2030. This may complicate EU plans for the energy transition.
The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Zaragoza’s Research Centre for Energy Resources and Consumption and Terraqui. It focuses on the direct and indirect impacts of data centres. The research contains the cases of Ireland, Netherlands and Sweden and their legal and political frameworks as specific examples in the EU.
Alicia Valero, co-author of the study: “World data centers’ electricity consumption and related infrastructure accounted for 2.9% of global electricity consumption and 1,5% of Carbon emissions in 2021, exceeding electricity consumption in Germany (Source: IEA). In Europe the estimated consumption is 104 TWh, equivalent to the electricity consumption of the Netherlands (117,6 TWh). A 87% CO2 emissions reduction could be reached with efficient, circular economy and renewable energy measures.” MEP Anja Hazekamp (Partij voor de Dieren, Netherlands), Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety said: “Our party has successfully opposed the construction of a gigantic data-centre in Zeewolde, the Netherlands. In the face of increasing data-consumption, it is important to address this issue more broadly as well. The energy- water- and land-use of existing data-centres is already huge. Only in my own province Groningen Measures are needed in order to decrease the environmental footprint of data-centres. Recommendations to initiate data-minimalisation and to require data-centre to generate their own sustainable energy should certainly be considered.” MEP Malin Bjork (Vänsterpartiet, Sweden), Member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety: “Northern Europe is seen as an ideal location for data centers, given adequate land, cold temperatures for natural cooling and clean sources of energy. The study examines the situation in Sweden, where a significant expansion of data centers is expected. I am concerned about these developments, given that the Swedish government cut the climate and environmental budget by 58 percent over three years and has dismantled the ministry for the environment, policies clearly inspired by the climate-denying Sweden Democrats.” MEP Mick Wallace (Independents 4 Change, Ireland), Member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety: “We are suffering a disastrous energy crisis in the EU, with soaring bills for ordinary people, many unable to heat their homes. In the midst of this, and the race to renewables, we need to stop and seriously question the fact that soon 20% of the world’s energy will be consumed by data centres. 20 per cent! In Ireland we expect it to reach around 30% of the nation’s electricity demand by 2030. We are pushing the finishing line further and further away with data’s insatiable appetite for energy. And for what? So much pointless data is used once, stored, and left for eternity. Instead of tax incentives, we need to regulate data centres, introduce mandatory data collection and stop corporations designing for social media addiction.” MEP Petros Kokkalis, Member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety: “We prefer not to think about this, but every status update on Instagram, every web search, every email sent or received means the consumption of electricity and therefore the emission of greenhouse gasses. The use of the internet involves not only the use of a device directly connected to a plug or a battery charged with electricity, but also calling on millions of pieces of data stored on servers. These servers are extremely energy-intensive.
BIG DATA ON A DEAD PLANET: THE DIGITAL TRANSITION’S NEGLECTED ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTSEnglish
“BIG DATA” PÅ EN DÖD PLANET: DEN DIGITALA OMSTÄLLNINGENS IGNORERADE MILJÖPÅVERKANSwedish
BIG DATA OP EEN DODE PLANEET: DE VERWAARLOOSDE MILIEUEFFECTEN VAN DE DIGITALE TRANSITIEDutch