Monday, November 13, 2006

Putting Hot Air to Good Use

'Twas not long after reading about Mr Zilla's need for sufficient carbon credits to offset his migratory lifestyle that I came across The Information Factories in Wired 14.10 (Oct 06) that got me thinking about the environmental impact of modern geekery. One passage in particular got me thinking:

Hovering above the cabinets like a midday emanation over Death Valley, a shimmering haze of heat signifies an awesome consumption of power.

If it's necessary to waste memory and bandwidth to dominate the petascale era, gorging on energy is an inescapable cost of doing business. Ask.com operations VP Dayne Sampson estimates that the five leading search companies together have some 2 million servers, each shedding 300 watts of heat annually, a total of 600 megawatts. These are linked to hard drives that dissipate perhaps another gigawatt. Fifty percent again as much power is required to cool this searing heat, for a total of 2.4 gigawatts. With a third of the incoming power already lost to the grid's inefficiencies, and half of what's left lost to power supplies, transformers, and converters, the total of electricity consumed by major search engines in 2006 approaches 5 gigawatts.

That's an impressive quantity of electricity. Five gigawatts is almost enough to power the Las Vegas metropolitan area - with all its hotels, casinos, restaurants, and convention centers - on the hottest day of the year. So the annual operation of the world's petascale search machines constitutes a Vegas-sized power sump. In the next year or so, it could add a dog-day Atlantic City. Air-conditioning will be the prime cost and conundrum of the petascale era. As energy analysts Peter Huber and Mark Mills projected in 1999, the planetary machine is on track to be consuming half of all the world's output of electricity by the end of this decade.
My question is (and please correct me if I've got the science wrong here) would all of that heat generate enough convection to push the air up (assuming you designed the roof in such a way as to funnel the air) & be able to push turbines to generate some energy to offset all of the power used?

I figure if The London Oasis - an interactive sculpture with a vertical-axis turbine and thermal chimney that I read about tonight - can do it, why not huge heat-generating server warehouses?


Then they can start working on Parliament House...

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Posted by Dean @ 11/13/2006 09:59:00 pm

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for the record, since I operate a toast'n'peanut butter powered commuting contraption, my overall annual CO2 estimates come in reasonably pretty low :-)

Posted by Blogger mister z @ Monday, November 27, 2006 8:05:00 pm #
 

...and by the way, you're getting your environmental awareness not just from Tim Blair, but from one of Tim Blair's wanker commenters no less?

Posted by Blogger mister z @ Wednesday, November 29, 2006 6:45:00 pm #
 
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