Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis Launches Green Computer Catalyst | The news

The New Catalyst Will Help Reduce Energy Use and Carbon Emissions from Computer Systems


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

Computers are everywhere, from business to government to our daily lives.

As demand for high volumes of data processing, data analysis, and artificial intelligence increases, computer systems have become budding energy consumers and contributors to carbon emissions.

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

“Computer research at NREL has historically focused on applying computing resources to answer questions about energy efficiency and renewable energy,” said Charles Tripp, a senior computer scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and lead researcher for the Green Computer Catalyst. “Now, with the catalyst, we have the opportunity to study computing itself as the serious energy research challenge it has become.”

The Move to Algorithmic Energy Efficiency

Since the dawn of the computer age, computer efficiency, or the number of computations that can be completed per kilowatt-hour of electricity used, has doubled almost every year and a half with hardware improvements.

Faster and more reliable computing has enabled many industries to store and analyze large, complex data sets. However, computer systems need to use more energy to work with big data – and computer efficiency gains have begun to rise over the past decade.

“Efficiency gains in computing have slowed in recent years,” Tripp said. “We can no longer assume that the hardware will simply become significantly more efficient each year. This means that in order to further increase computer power efficiency, we need to improve the efficiency of the software.”

Some big data centers like NREL’s High Performance Computing system uses water to cool the systems and effectively capture waste heat which is then used throughout NREL’s offices and laboratory space. However, the power consumption of computers has become a wider concern due to the declining computing efficiency and rapid rise of energy-intensive blockchain technology, artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency, leading to a greater focus on algorithmic energy efficiency.

An energy-efficient algorithm can perform the same task on the same hardware using less power – offering a possible way to make computers faster without using more power. “Based on the hardware development trajectory, algorithmic energy efficiency will come to the forefront,” Tripp said.

Over the next few years, the Green Computer Catalyst will explore algorithmic energy efficiency as well as ways to limit energy use of computing and possible ways to reuse, repair, or recycle hardware products and materials to support a circular economy. Through the Green Computing Catalyst, 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, communication, and collaboration in the field.

The Catalyst Initiative

La Initiated by JISEA Catalyzers launched in May 2021 to bring together JISEA and NREL think tanks to leverage energy analysis, projects, data and tools within specific research areas. The initiative is operated jointly with NREL, and each catalyst is aligned with strategic priority at the laboratory.

“JISEA is built on the principle of silage demolition to collaborate across a variety of sectors,” said Juan Torres, director of Energy Systems Integration at NREL. “The JISEA Catalysts create communities of experts to understand work that is being done within a specific research area and to identify needs going forward.”

Each catalyst is led by a principal investigator and incubated for 1-2 years before being launched into a new NREL-led research program. JISEA launched the initiative with the inauguration Energy and Atmospheric Systems Catalyst and Sustainable Communities Catalystwho will graduate into a new NREL research program this year.

Help Catalyze Innovation

JISEA is looking for sponsors, use cases and specialist review panel members and practitioners across industries and sectors who are passionate about green computing. Please contact JISEA if interested.

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