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Frugal computing

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On the need for low-carbon and sustainable computing and the path towards zero-carbon computing.

See https://wimvanderbauwhede.github.io/articles/frugal-computing/ for the complete article with references.

* The problem:

The current emissions from computing are about 2% of the world total but are projected to rise steeply over the next two decades. By 2040 emissions from computing alone will be close to half the emissions level acceptable to keep global warming below 2°C. This growth in computing emissions is unsustainable: it would make it virtually impossible to meet the emissions warming limit.
The emissions from production of computing devices far exceed the emissions from operating them, so even if devices are more energy efficient producing more of them will make the emissions problem worse. Therefore we must extend the useful life of our computing devices.

* The solution:

As a society we need to start treating computational resources as finite and precious, to be utilised only when necessary, and as effectively as possible. We need frugal computing: achieving the same results for less energy.

* The vision:

Imagine we can extend the useful life of our devices and even increase their capabilities without any increase in energy consumption.
Meanwhile, we will develop the technologies for the next generation of devices, designed for energy efficiency as well as long life.
Every subsequent cycle will last longer, until finally the world will have computing resources that last forever and hardly use any energy.

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Frugal computing

  1. 1. School of Computing Science Towards zero-carbon computing The need for low carbon and sustainable computing June 2021 Wim Vanderbauwhede
  2. 2. Frugal computing
  3. 3. Computational resources are finite • Since the 1970s, we have been using increasing amounts of computational resources. • Growth of performance per Watt has been exponential (Moore's law) • As a result, increasing use of computational resources has become pervasive in today's society. • Computational resources have until recently effectively been treated as infinite.
  4. 4. Computational resources are finite • Moore's law has come to an end (“the free lunch is over”): – Growth in demand will not be offset by increased power efficiency. – With business as usual, the carbon footprint from computing will become a major contributor to the world total. • The carbon footprint of device production is also huge. – Moore's Law has led to very short lifetimes of compute hardware. – The currrent rate of obsolescence is entirely unsustainable.
  5. 5. We need frugal computing • As a society, we need to start treating computational resources as finite and precious, to be utilised only when necessary, and as frugally as possible. • As computing scientists, we need to ensure that computing has the lowest possible energy consumption. • And because the lifetimes of compute devices needs to be extended dramatically, we must achieve this with the currently available technologies.
  6. 6. The scale of the challenge
  7. 7. Meeting the climate targets
  8. 8. Avoiding catastrophic warming • To limit global warming to below 2 by 2040, a global ℃ reduction from 55 to 23 Gtonnes per year is needed. • Emissions from electricity are currently about 10 GtCO2e. • Renewables will provide 30% of electricity by 2040. • Reducing the energy consumption is the only way to avoid catastrophic warming.
  9. 9. The carbon cost of computing
  10. 10. Emissions from using computing • In 2020, emissions from using computing were between 3.0% and 3.5% of the total. • By 2040 this will grow to 14% (4x). • By 2040, energy consumption of compute devices would be responsible for 5 Gtonnes of CO2
  11. 11. Emissions from production • Emissions from the production of computing devices exceed those incurred during operation. • Taking into account this carbon cost of production, computing would be responsible for 10 Gtonnes of CO2 by 2040, • This is almost half of the acceptable CO2 emissions budget of 23 Gtonnes of CO2.
  12. 12. Towards zero carbon computing
  13. 13. Transforming computing • In less than two decades, we need a radically transformation of the global use of computational resources to meet the climate targets. • We must dramatically reduce the carbon cost of both production and operation of computing.
  14. 14. Extending the useful life • We can't rely on next-generation hardware technologies to save energy: the production of this next generation of devices will create more emissions than any operational gains can offset. • It does not mean research into more efficient technologies should stop. • But their deployment cycles should be much slower. • Extending the useful life of compute technologies to several decades must become our priority.
  15. 15. Extending the useful life • We need a change in business models as well as consumer attitudes. This requires: – raising awareness and education; – providing incentives for behavioural change; – provide economic incentives and policies; – infrastructure and training for repair and maintainance.
  16. 16. A vision for computing science
  17. 17. • Develop the computing science to extend the useful life of our devices and increase their capabilities. • With every advance, effectiveness will increase without any increase in energy consumption. • Computing technologies for the next generation of devices will increase energy efficiency and lifetime. • Every subsequent cycle will last longer, until finally the world will have computing resources that last forever and hardly use any energy.
  18. 18. To make this vision reality • We must design better software to support extended lifetimes. • We need better software engineering strategies to handle the extended software life cycles. • Longer life means more opportunities to find vulnerabilities, so we need better cyber security. • We need to develop new approaches to reduce overall energy consumption across the entire system.
  19. 19. Thank you!
  20. 20. For more details and references https://wimvanderbauwhede.github.io/ articles/frugal-computing/

On the need for low-carbon and sustainable computing and the path towards zero-carbon computing. See https://wimvanderbauwhede.github.io/articles/frugal-computing/ for the complete article with references. * The problem: The current emissions from computing are about 2% of the world total but are projected to rise steeply over the next two decades. By 2040 emissions from computing alone will be close to half the emissions level acceptable to keep global warming below 2°C. This growth in computing emissions is unsustainable: it would make it virtually impossible to meet the emissions warming limit. The emissions from production of computing devices far exceed the emissions from operating them, so even if devices are more energy efficient producing more of them will make the emissions problem worse. Therefore we must extend the useful life of our computing devices. * The solution: As a society we need to start treating computational resources as finite and precious, to be utilised only when necessary, and as effectively as possible. We need frugal computing: achieving the same results for less energy. * The vision: Imagine we can extend the useful life of our devices and even increase their capabilities without any increase in energy consumption. Meanwhile, we will develop the technologies for the next generation of devices, designed for energy efficiency as well as long life. Every subsequent cycle will last longer, until finally the world will have computing resources that last forever and hardly use any energy.

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