Green tech is the new social conscience of the telecoms and tech worlds and PR departments and agencies are having a field day. But most of it is hot air.
The report from Telenor on ‘tech trends that will fuel the green transition of society’ is to be welcomed. We must all do our bit, we must join together and save the planet.
Despite the talk of optimisation and edge computing and digital transformation and the usual silver bullet of ‘5G to Save the World,’ there is a fundamental problem. Or two.
Data centres are incredibly hungry creatures, gobbling up energy, resources and electricity at an ever more alarming rate.
Green tech – proper green tech (not fudged with some carbon offset nonsense) – is decades away, at best.
Without sounding like the always-on, mildly furious Greta Thunberg, green tech right now is not a thing. In fact, it is the opposite.
In the Netherlands, there is a big fight emerging as planning permission has been granted to Meta to build a 410 acre (165 hectare) data centre by the local authority but the State is being lobbied to block it on the basis that it will consume 10% of Dutch wind energy production.
In Denmark, 15% of electricity production will be required to power Meta’s data centres by 2030 and in Ireland it is predicted that data centres will drain around 30% of the country’s electricity. It is not just Meta, of course, almost every telco and tech company with the enterprise market in its sights is building large scale data centres.
Hardly green tech, in the true sense of the word. And irritating to learn, as we carefully sort a milk carton from a flyer promoting healthy living.
Some will point out that 10% of wind energy is good because that it is exactly the sort of thing that wind is for. But take 10%, or 15, or 30% of a country’s energy supply and even if you say ‘it’s fine, it all comes from the wind,’ it still means that, for the foreseeable future that PR stunt simply hides the fact that other energy sources will be needed to power all the other essentials of our lives.
And if that attempt at promoting green tech holds some sort of sway, when two of the major countries at COP 26 say, at the last minute (as the PR types are sharpening their pencils), ‘sorry, did we say we would ‘phase out’ coal, ah, what we meant was ‘we will phase down coal. Whoops.’
That will be some offset against any green tech initiative.
Talking of offsets, please let us not go there. A tree takes a while to grow, decades in fact. So, to ‘offset’ pollution now against something that might grow and offset it in 30 years’ time should make even Greta’s normally mildy furious expression morph into abject fury.
There is only one way to make green tech, real green tech, happen and that is to regulate it and impose real fines.
But when governments themselves are the culprits, it is hard to see that happening.