The number of Internet users worldwide has more than doubled since 2010, with global Internet traffic expanding by 25x, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Generating all those bits and bytes and transmitting them around the globe consumes massive amounts of energy.
The IEA estimates that data centers and data transmission networks each account for 1 to 1.5% of global electricity use. Moreover, new technologies like AI, high performance computing (HPC), and IoT consume far more power than legacy computing technologies.
“The growing demand for high-density servers to support HPC, AI, and data-analytics workloads at a massive scale is challenging conventional approaches to data center cooling,” says Tim Stewart, co-founder and COO of Exergenics, a software startup focused on optimizing chilled water plants. “Despite major gains in power efficiency, processors are becoming steadily more power hungry, giving off more heat as a result.”
Compounding the problem is the fact that rack density is also growing. Stewart says that some racks now draw as much as 16kW, and the HPC infrastructure required to support AI workloads will demand up to 50kW. The excess heat generated by this computing power is not only wasteful, but it threatens to overwhelm conventional cooling systems.
“Growing demand for air conditioners is one of the most critical blind spots in today’s energy debate. Setting higher efficiency standards for cooling is one of the easiest steps governments can take to reduce the need for new power plants, cut emissions, and reduce costs at the same time,” said Fatih Birol, executive director, IEA. In its Future of Cooling report, the IEA contends that without action to address energy efficiency, energy demand for space cooling will more than triple by 2050, consuming as much electricity as all of China and India today.
To reduce consumption and limit pollution, the entire digital supply chain will need to find ways to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, recycle and reuse waste products, and capture and/or eliminate emissions. The 10 startups featured below are working to reduce resource consumption with technologies that include net-zero data center campuses, digital boiler technology, and direct-on-chip liquid cooling.