WattImpact. Green energy solutions for the web.

February 17, 2012 in Efficiency

WattValue, based in Paris, France, is a small startup with offices at La Ruche, the inspiring and earthy co-working space I recently wrote about.  WattValue has developed WattImpact, a green IT solution for websites – which evaluates the ecological impact of a website and then engages the website to run on renewable energies and eventually provides certification that the website is committed to renewable energy solutions.

When I read briefly about Wattimpact’s mission, I was very excited to discover ways to “green” a website.  I’ve always had these questions running in the back of my head – do animations have an impact on your website’s energy efficiency?  Is a visually-complex website going to consume more energy, especially if someone across the world is loading the website?  Can using certain colors consume less electricity?

I recently read about Blackle, a website project which is exactly what it sounds like – a Black Google.  Apparently, a 2002 report found that a monitor requires more power to display a white screen than a black screen and a 2007 study estimated that Black Google would save 750 MWh per year.  However, this display efficiency was true for CRT screens, but not really for LCD monitors.  And today, we have predominantly moved to LCD monitors.

So really, Wattimpact is not going to help “green” the design of your website.  In fact, the design of a website is not going to have a  significant impact on its energy use.  The real impact is going to come from where that data is stored – which data center is the website’s server housed in, and how that data center is operating.

In terms of energy use, there is relatively little discussion about data centers.  But these unassuming beasts consume a gargantuan amount of electricity, 1.5-2% of global electricity, and growing at a rate of 12% per year.  For example, Apple’s new $1 billion “iDataCenter” in North Carolina will require up to 100MW of power to operate, which is equivalent to the energy needed to power 80,000 US homes.

Greenpeace brought this data center phenomenon to the mainstream with its stimulating report, “How dirty is your data?”, revealing some dirty truths about our favorite IT companies.  Greenpeace focuses particularly on North Carolina’s “dirty data triangle: Facebook, Google, and Apple” – where these three IT giants have recently built data centers.  Why North Carolina?  North Carolina is especially attractive for IT companies due to its cheap electricity prices (4-5 cents/kWh) and tax incentives.  And why “dirty”?  North Carolina’s generation mix is composed mainly of coal (61%) and nuclear (30.8%) and very little renewable energy.

So back to understanding Wattimpact.  Wattimpact provides a solution for websites to be more aware and responsible of the energy use of their websites- and in particular, confirm that the servers that are hosting the website are running on renewable energy.  Wattimpact has engaged about 200 websites thus far, and for each website, Wattimpact provides a profile, detailing the energy consumed by the website’s traffic, what percentage of the energy used to power the website comes from renewable energy sources, and specifically what type of renewable energy is being used.

For example, if we look at the profile of Nature et Découvertes, we see that 92% of the electricity used to power the site’s traffic comes from renewable sources, and in particular, from La Rochette, a hydroelectric power plant, located near Grenoble.

Pretty cool, yeah?

There’s a lot more to write on this subject of Green IT, and focusing on data centers as a real point of optimization – from a supply side by looking at how the data centers are powered, but also on a demand side – making them as efficient as possible.

And though Wattimpact is not a technical miracle, it provides a solution for people to be transparent and take responsibility for their energy use.  And it’s empowering.

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