Diesel Generators: ICT's Dirty Component
Belching diesel equipment is not what one imagines when visualizing the Internet and mobile communications. It turns out they play a significant role in ICT's consumption of fossil fuels and emission of GHG.
More of the world population comes online every year, primarily through mobile communications infrastructures. Many of these people live in areas without reliable grid power, so base stations and other infrastructure elements need independent generation. Renewables are playing an increasing role, diesel generators still dominate. Even back in 2009, India, alone, used ~2 billion litres of diesel annually for primary power and backup generators for base stations.
ICT in developed economies is not immune from diesel dependence, either, as two Spetember 2012 New York Times article reveal.
The New York Times writes in one, "To guard against a power failure, [data centers] rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show. In Silicon Valley, many data centers appear on the state government’s Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory, a roster of the area’s top stationary diesel polluters." (Bay Area Air Quality Management District's Toxic Air Contaminant Control Program Annual Report.)
That article offers examples of the link between data centers and diesal-generated air pollution. "At least a dozen major data centers have been cited for violations of air quality regulations in Virginia and Illinois alone, according to state records. Amazon was cited with more than 24 violations over a three-year period in Northern Virginia, including running some of its generators without a basic environmental permit…As a result of four inspections beginning in October 2010, [Amazon] was told it would be fined $554,476 by the agency for installing and repeatedly running diesel generators without obtaining standard environmental permits required to operate in Virginia…The violations came in addition to a series of lesser infractions at one of Amazon’s data centers in Ashburn, Va., in 2009, for which the company paid $3,496…Over the past five years in the Chicago area, for example, the Internet powerhouses Savvis and Equinix received violation notices, according to records from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Aside from Amazon, Northern Virginia officials have also cited data centers run by Qwest, Savvis, VeriSign and NTT America."
In the other article, "…a [Quincy, WA] citizens group initiated a legal challenge over pollution from some of nearly 40 giant diesel generators that Microsoft’s facility — near an elementary school — is allowed to use for backup power."
Even when there are no grid blackouts, ICT facilities typically exercise backup generators on a frequent basis for availability testing.