Will Higher Energy Efficiency Increase Consumption?

SearchDataCenter.com's Mark Fontecchio writes Has green computing increased data center energy consumption?

Some skeptics of the green computing wave say that more energy-efficient data centers won't necessarily minimize overall energy consumption. In fact, they say it will lead to greater energy use. There's an important factor missing from the equation, say green-computing detractors: increasing consumer demand.

Mark cites Christian Belady and Lewis Curtis in his article. On first read I've accepted Christian and Lewis's ideas when I read them a couple of months ago.

Their argument goes like this: The more efficient a product, the more you use it, and it ends up consuming more resources overall than it did when it was less efficient. Christian Belady, a former technologist at Hewlett-Packard Co. who now works at Microsoft, compared data center energy consumption to the cost of gasoline. If the price of gas were to decline as significantly as the price of compute performance per watt has for IT equipment, you'd probably put a generator in your house and run everything on gasoline instead of electricity.

Coincidentally, I found articles about Boeing's planes

One of the concerns voiced about the advent of the new, more fuel-efficient aircraft (as well as its apparent popularity, as orders are outpacing analysts’ earlier projections) is the potential for a “rebound effect” similar to that seen with increases in fuel efficiency in light-duty vehicles—i.e., the decrease in fuel consumption (and thus, operating costs) leads to an increase in vehicle miles travelled.

and Cars on the same subject of increased efficiency will increase consumption.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the money spent on transportation infrastructure was directed to building more and bigger highways. We could have subsidized bullet trains and more light rail systems, but we didn't.

Now, many of the environmentalists, politicians and scientists who made the case for boosting vehicle fuel efficiency are turning their attention to the problem of how much we drive -- and the legacy of 20th century land use and transportation choices.

So, do I agree with Christian and Lewis. I think the issue can be looked at another way like the Rashomon Effect. There are multiple forces driving increases in data center services with many of the services free.  So, even though the data center operators decrease their costs by having higher efficiency, the cost impact is not visible to the user. Given most data centers don't monitor their power bills, I don't think they even know they are more efficient, so the analogy of gas efficiency doesn't necessarily apply.

Let me propose another question

Is being Green (traveling less, using the web more) driving up data center consumption?

To stir things up I'll send this post to Lewis and Christian. Plus, I am going to have dinner with Lewis Curtis this week, and we can this subject. Maybe, I can find out how his latest Green Data Center presentation went at TechReady 6. 

On a side, it would be interesting to know if Prius drivers do drive more. I found this poll. And, I may ask this question given I am writing this blog from a Toyota Dealer.  :-)

View Poll Results: How many miles do you drive your Prius

<5,000 miles/year


5,001 - 7,500


7,500 - 10,000


10,000 - 15,000


15,000 - 20,000


20,000 - 30,000


30,000 - 40,000




Voters: 147. You may not vote on this poll