Posts Tagged Iceland

Carbon Credits and the Icelandic Volcano

Posted by on Monday, 10 May, 2010

A volcanic eruption spewed out a huge amount of carbon into the atmosphere, and clogged the air with flakes of ash for several weeks. Flights are grounded because of the eruption, so planes cannot run their usual routes in Europe and connect travelers on the Atlantic coast to airports across the ocean. Surprisingly enough, the volcano eruption has another effect, on the airlines’ allocation of carbon credits from the European Union.

Since the volcano eruption grounded flights, airliners will fly less hours. According to the Environmental Leader, this will lead to increased carbon credit costs for airlines. The reason is that airlines are not currently covered by the mandatory European carbon credit exchange, which will affect them in 2012. This means they will have a lower baseline carbon emissions standard to use as a comparison in 2012.

The article doesn’t mention a huge disincentive here. This volcano forces airliners to fly less, leading them to appear like they used less energy, which is used in the regulatory calculations of the European Union. This suggests that airliners would gain an advantage by not attempting any form of carbon emissions reduction for their current flights, so they would have a higher base point to start from. Airliners even have an incentive to waste additional fuel now, since if flying less hours will raise their costs in two years, flying more hours now will give them targets that are much easier to meet in the future. This is extremely counterproductive. Since the Environmental Leader mentions that the airlines will be paying more than $3 billion for these credits each year, increasing in the future, an incentive to waste additional fuel and produce more emissions in the next two years which will lower airliners’ future costs needs to be addressed. Fortunately, according to Business Green, the expected effect of the volcanic eruptions so far is two percent of the total carbon emissions for the year, not a huge factor by itself. This article further mentions that the flight reductions caused by the international recession further decrease flights, adding an additional factor that lowers the baseline energy usage of the airliners.

Federal Agencies Launch a Major IT Agency Overhaul

Posted by on Tuesday, 2 March, 2010

Data centers can be very expensive to run, especially because of their energy costs. The servers have to be powered, including additional servers that are available as backup at other hot sites. Since these servers use so much energy, it’s also necessary to have an additional system to cool them down, which adds even more power usage. Recently it has become popular for Internet users to question whether the websites they frequent are attempting to reduce their dependence on carbon sources. The Guardian reports the efforts of several major firms to improve their carbon footprint, including Google, Sun, and Microsoft. One interesting note that stands out; Microsoft’s researchers in Cambridge were switching to some systems used in older laptops, as they were originally designed for use with less efficient batteries and so use less energy.

Today Slashdot reported that the federal government was consolidating its 1100 datacenters. Vivek Kundra is giving the main reason for this change as reducing energy costs. There are other possible tradeoffs to note before an organization decides to make a decision like this. Data Center Knowledge, which is linked in the Slashdot article, goes into a lot more depth here. Reducing the number of data centers is possible mainly with the use of cloud computing. Kundra is quoted in the article that he is trying to use best practices from the private sector.

As I mentioned yesterday when talking about the effect of SEC climate change regulations, the public companies like Google, Sun, and Microsoft are frequently used as a benchmark for the federal government, as well as the states, counties, and cities. It is well known that many popular cloud systems are controlled by these three companies, and they are relied on heavily by workers at government and private employers, even in organizations that have their own communications systems. These companies already know how to set up a data center to reduce costs, although sourcing the data servers directly to companies could increase security risks. It would probably also mean a lot of job losses for the current federal IT staff, although whoever gets the new contracts would likely be hiring.

Vivek Kundra has brought up these issues in the past, especially the use of cloud computing and outside system design by well known tech firms to reduce government energy costs. Information Week reports that Kundra has already been in consultation with Google to design the new systems. Since Google is so widely used the government workers are familiar with its use as a research tool, although it is too risky to use a public search engine when working with classified documents. So Google is helping to design a new government cloud, and applying for the Federal Information Security Management Act accreditation. Since Microsoft and Sun also make many products that are widely used by government workers, it is likely that they will also provide customized systems that focus on server energy consumption and speed.

One recommendation that I would make is that geothermal power could be very useful for powering the data centers. Iceland has the benefit of having large amounts of volcanic power available, and its cold climate is also very useful for cooling down the servers. Not only that, the location would improve physical security, as it would be difficult for anyone to cross the ocean and blend into the smaller population undetected. Drawbacks are that this would affect latency, as a data center in Virginia would allow much faster communications, and it is risky to host federal information in another country.