Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis Launches Green Computing Catalyzer | News

The new catalyst helps reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions from computer systems


Photo of two researchers using a computer.
NREL researchers use a powerful computer in NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Computers are everywhere from commerce to government to our everyday lives.

As the demand for large amounts of data processing, data analytics and artificial intelligence grows, computer systems have become fast-growing consumers of energy and contributors to carbon emissions.

To understand how to design, manufacture, use and dispose of computers with minimal environmental impact, the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA) launched the new Green Computer Catalyst—the third catalyst in the JISEA Catalyzers initiative, a collaborative program that accelerates the transition to clean energy.

“Computational research at NREL has traditionally focused on applying computational resources to answer questions about energy efficiency and renewable energy,” said Charles Tripp, senior computational scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and principal investigator of the Green Computing Catalyzer. . “Now, through the catalyst, we have the opportunity to study the computer itself as the serious challenge to energy research that it has become.”

The move to algorithmic energy efficiency

Since the dawn of the computer age, computational efficiency, or the number of calculations that can be completed per kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed, has doubled almost every year and a half due to hardware improvements.

Faster and more reliable computing has enabled many industries to store and analyze large, complex data sets. However, computer systems must consume more energy to work with large amounts of data – and the gains in computing efficiency have started to level off over the past decade.

“Computer energy efficiency gains have declined in recent years,” Tripp said. “We can no longer assume that the hardware will simply become significantly more efficient every year. That means that we need to further increase the efficiency of the software to further increase the computational energy efficiency.”

Some large data centers like NREL High Performance Computing system use water to cool the systems and efficiently capture waste heat which is then used in NREL’s offices and laboratory space. Still, computer power consumption has become a broader issue with declining computational efficiency and the meteoric rise of energy-intensive blockchain technology, artificial intelligence systems, and cryptocurrency, driving increased focus on algorithmic energy efficiency.

An energy-efficient algorithm can perform the same task on the same hardware with less energy, providing a potential path to make computers faster without consuming more energy. “Based on the hardware development trajectory, algorithmic energy efficiency will come to the fore,” Tripp said.

In the coming years, the Green Computing Catalyzer will explore algorithmic energy efficiency alongside ways to reduce computer energy consumption and potential ways to reuse, repair or recycle hardware products and materials to support a circular economy. Using the Green Computing Catalyzer, JISEA and NREL analysts will develop a baseline of existing research within green computing, build a network of experts and identify needs for further research, knowledge sharing and collaborations in the field.

The Catalysts Initiative

The JISEA Catalysers Initiative launched in May 2021 to bring together opinion leaders from JISEA and NREL to leverage energy analytics, projects, data and tools within specific areas of research. The initiative is run in conjunction with NREL and each catalyst aligns with a strategic priority in the lab.

“JISEA is built on the principle of breaking silos to collaborate across industries,” said Juan Torres, director of Energy Systems Integration at NREL. “The JISEA catalysts create communities of experts to understand the work done within a specific area of ​​research and identify future needs.”

Each catalyst is led by a principal investigator and incubated for 1-2 years before launching into a new NREL-led research program. JISEA kicked off the initiative with the inaugural Catalyst for Energy and Atmospheric Systems and Catalyst for sustainable communitieswhich will graduate this year in a new NREL research program.

Help Catalyze Innovation

JISEA is looking for sponsors, use cases and panelists from expert reviews and practitioners in various industries and sectors who are passionate about green computing. Please contact JISEA if interested.

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