Letter: Avril Garland, Vienna

Editor: Now with coronavirus in our midst, many of us totally rely on our internet connections to get our work done and communicate with colleagues and friends. And in the evening, we’re grateful for the seamless entertainment the internet provides. However, few people realize the extraordinary amount of dirty energy all this activity runs on.

Big data centers, the backbone of the digital economy, need huge amounts of energy. Loudoun County hosts the highest concentration of computing centers in the world:70 percent of the entire internet contentpasses through Loudoun.According to a Greenpeace report, the total power demand of the data centers in Loudoun County is almost 4.5 gigawatts—roughly the same power output as nine 500-megawatt coal power plants. These 4.5 gigawatts are largely supplied by Dominion, and largely by fossil fuels.Each of Loudoun over 70 data centers also owns back-up diesel generators.Digital Realty has a whooping 139.None of these generators havepollution controls.Diesel combustion gives rise to ozone which contributes to the region’s smog.

Dominion, the supplier of most of Loudoun County’s electricity, uses about two thirds fossil fuels, one third nuclear power, and less than 4 percent renewable energy.Dominion has used rising data center demand to justify costly new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, notably a 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline to deliver fracked gas into Virginia and North Carolina. If built, this pipeline would lock Virginia into decades more of dirty energy—despitethe recently passed Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020, which directs the construction of 16,100 MW of solar power and onshore wind by 2035, bringing the state’s utility-delivered power to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. Ratepayers will be footing much the bill. It has been said that this law will end up preserving through various clauses and loopholes most of Virginia’s coal and natural gas plants and gas pipelines, perhaps for most of their useful lives, as itplaces no outright moratorium on new fossil fuel construction like pipelines or compression stations.

This is not good enough. Climate scientists have warned that we must phase out fossil fuels and transition to clean energy in the next 12 years to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of total warming.

Loudoun can do better. Iowa also hosts clusters of big data centers and these have significantly invested in clean energy. Wind turbines provide one third of Iowa’s electricity.

Since 2012, 20 large tech companies, including Amazon Web Services, have promised to transition to renewable energy. Already all Apple’s retail stores, data centers and corporate offices worldwide run on 100% clean energy (solar, wind, biogas fuel cells, and micro-hydro generation systems). However,Amazon Web Services (AWS), Dominion’s largest customer, has backslid on its 2014 pledge to use 100% renewable energy to power its cloud.

So what do we do about it? Greenpeace recommends users of the internet platforms that rely on AWS to urge AWS to honor its commitment. (AWS hosts Netflix, Hulu, Slack, Pinterest, AirBnB, Yelp, Zillow, Expedia, instacart, DuoLingo, Soundcloud, the Weather Company and many more.)Amazon Prime members can do likewise.

But Dominion will have to make this possible as Virginia is primarily a regulated energy market. Data centers have few options in Loudoun for buying a renewable supply of energy if not offered by the local utility. (Only Apple has invested in enough renewable energy procurement to match its demand in the region.)

Dominion and Amazon, clearly two main players here, must be forced to step up to their obligations. Otherwise Virginia will make little progress transitioning to clean energy.

Avril Garland, Vienna

7 thoughts on “Letter: Avril Garland, Vienna

  • 2020-03-25 at 12:09 pm

    Meanwhile, in the real world… The only thing keeping a society under duress is reliable power, the information transaction known as the ‘net, and fossil fueled trucks straining to keep up with panic buyers.

    People don’t give a pa-tooy where their power and net comes from, so long as it keeps coming.

  • 2020-03-25 at 1:25 pm

    If you seriously believe the predictions of doom on “man-made global warming” please get back to us when you have abandoned your car and only use public transport. And have installed solar or wind in your home and are completely off the grid. And grow all your own food so truckers don’t need to use fossil fuels to feed you. When you have done so, please feel free to lecture everyone else on how to live their lives.

    Energy drives improved living standards. Cut energy production and prepare for a return to the 18th century or worse.

    • 2020-03-26 at 11:30 pm

      A pointless ad hominem attack. My article was not addressing individual behavior. Whether I personally use a donkey or a Hummer to transport myself has no bearing on the fact that Loudoun’s big data centers run largely on dirty energy. Even if you are not concerned by climate change, you must be aware that burning fossil fuels causes serious air and water pollution degrading the environment and human health. Of course energy is essential for decent living standards. The choice is between dirty energy and clean energy, not dirty energy and no energy.

      • 2020-03-27 at 9:18 pm

        You need to review the definition of “ad hominem.” I mentioned your behavior. And you don’t seem to like that. Your activities have a direct bearing on energy use and the global warming you claim to fear. Your personal actions and behavior is completely relevant.

        I personally now use the bus and metro 3 days a week to get to work to reduce traffic and reduce the fuel consumption. I keep my heat lower than I might otherwise. I have replaced virtually all my light bulbs with CFC and LED bulbs.

        In short, I am living my life in a way that does reduce my daily energy and water use. What I am not doing is lecturing people on what they ought to be doing. Do you realize that every internet search you run uses enough energy to boil at least one cup of water?

        American energy production is far cleaner now than at any time in the past. Modern automobiles are cleaner than even 20 years ago.

        The choice is largely between affordable energy and government-subsidized, more expensive energy that appears unsustainable without massive corporate welfare. I’m willing to let the market sort this out and let people live as they see fit in the meantime.

        I’d be a little more worried about predictions of the apocalypse if any of the numerous predictions over the past 40 years had actually come to pass. But they haven’t. And we need not fear the doom and gloom prophecies.

  • 2020-03-25 at 5:57 pm

    We all live in a real world and we all choose to focus on different things that generally divide us. Yes I am truly grateful for the internet and all it offers, especially now. Yes the science of global warming is real but it does not require belief(s). It is fact. I urge anyone to show us one single climate model that does not arrive at the same conclusion. All current models converge on a dryer hotter planet, expanding oceans, coastal flooding more severe storms. The dryer planet will be unable to sustain crops and the results will certainly be catastrophic.

    That’s why I seek to fix it as much as possible, and in our current mindset, without causing financial pain for businesses and or individuals and for many years I promoted a PACE program in Loudoun and Fairfax. The previous Board has it now open for commercial businesses. If it were available residentially, we could heat our homes and heat water without using fossil fuels. We could add previously omitted levels of insulation we need to reduce the size and energy consumption of HVAC systems and we could add solar or wind so that we had no energy bills. The money that we previously paid for energy will be used to repay the program. Everyone could own a better home and with batteries (additional) and be, off grid. Sometimes a PACE payment can be less than the savings and you can actually be “get paid to go green” to use the Chamber of Commerce slogan from Green Business Challenge days.

    I still want to do better, so I am also presently researching DATA Center energy consumption. The energy figures cited are alarming to put it mildly. In my search for energy efficiency I have been learning from a Submer system being demonstrated at Digital Realty in Ashburn. You can check it out here: http://www.submer.com Their rack product is liquid cooled. It offers a 1.03 PUE. Best practice locally is about 1.2 PUE. This is a huge reduction in energy consumption. Especially over existing facilities that average 1.67 PUE . This saves tons of CO2. The product is friendly to solar on the rooftop. The cooling system can also export waste heat for use in adjacent properties. In short it could technically operate below a 1 PUE at no additional cost using PACE to provide rooftop solar panels at a minimum. It could also provide waste heat to nearby hotels, schools, and housing and use PACE financing to do so. This eliminates combusting fossil fuels at the heated sites.

    The submer product is already cost effective on new builds. The question I am working on now is: Can we make it work for business in a rebuild?

    My answer is maybe: On a 1.67 PUE, 10 MW Data Center @ 5 cents/kWh, I estimate it on the low (REIT) end at $22,000,000.00 of PACE Capital available for energy efficiency upgrades. What I don’t know is: Is that enough to make a conversion? AND What other objections are there? You can find out more on the LoudounPACE website.

    The point I really want to make is: We can all do better with what we do use and minimize our damage to our present and future. If we can find a way to pay for it by redirecting energy expenses let’s do this. If it turns out something is wrong with climate science we will still be better off being more efficient and competitive. We should be able to unite around this.

  • 2020-03-25 at 8:39 pm

    As far as I can tell, every climate model has been utterly wrong over the past 20 years. Every prediction (some 41 if I recall correctly) has failed to materialize. If your model is wrong in the real world 100% of the time, it is time to rethink your premise.

    “The ultimate test for a climate model is the accuracy of its predictions. But the models predicted that there would be much greater warming between 1998 and 2014 than actually happened. If the models were doing a good job, their predictions would cluster symmetrically around the actual measured temperatures. That was not the case here; a mere 2.4 percent of the predictions undershot actual temperatures and 97.6 percent overshot, according to Cato Institute climatologist Patrick Michaels, former MIT meteorologist Richard Lindzen, and Cato Institute climate researcher Chip Knappenberger. Climate models as a group have been “running hot,” predicting about 2.2 times as much warming as actually occurred over 1998–2014. Of course, this doesn’t mean that no warming is occurring, but, rather, that the models’ forecasts were exaggerated.”

    Read more at: https://www.hoover.org/research/flawed-climate-models

  • 2020-04-03 at 11:51 am

    “Green” energy has its own problems that will plague us in years to come: https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2019/11/why-green-energy-is-a-terrible-idea.php Fossil fuel is by far the best and cheapest form of energy, providing a means for people and nations to move from poverty to prosperity. Technology is making fossil fuels cleaner and that will continue to improve. It is beyond me how environmentalists can be okay with massive wind turbines polluting the landscape. This is truly a “not in my backyard” solution. If these turbines were somehow able to be installed along Garland’s street, she would fight it, and if she lost, she would move. 10-20 years from now people will be complaining about all the aged and useless turbine parts that are consuming landfills.

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