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How would I make MeFi greener?
January 26, 2008 7:00 PM   Subscribe

I see there are "wind and solar powered" web hosts and I assume they just buy carbon and alternate energy credits because I doubt your site would stay up when it's dark and the wind isn't blowing. I saw Dreamhost described as a "carbon-neutral company" the other day. If I wanted to offset the energy required to power the mefi servers, how would I go about doing that? Just calculate hours in a day multiplied by the watt rating on the power supplies (as a worst-case scenario), then just buy alternate energy credits for that amount? (asking here because it's mefi related)

...and yeah, I know it's precious and a bit silly to buy credits when you can't really run a computer off wind and solar power 24/7 and it doesn't account for the power required by thousands of readers but I'm genuinely curious and would do it if it was a cost within reason.
posted by mathowie to MetaFilter-Related at 7:00 PM (44 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

You want to buy REC credits for your kWh or switch to a renewable plan from your electric company.

Some states let you choose your power provider, and you can switch to a company that supplies wind-produced energy.

Sometimes your local utility will have a plan in states that you can't switch electric companies. If you use Portland General Electric, they have a plan like this.
posted by Pants! at 7:23 PM on January 26, 2008


(The servers are physically in Texas somewhere)
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:26 PM on January 26, 2008


In your first link, the company explains how they are 100% wind/solar powered. Basically, they buy green energy certificates that companies sell who promise to produce as much power as you consume and feed it into the grid. This is different than a carbon credit, which just tells you that somehow (planting trees is popular, but there are a lot of variants), atmospheric carbon will be reduced on your behalf. A lot of these carbon credits are a little bit hand-wavey, so it isn't always clear cut if the claimed carbon reductions are taking place. The green energy certificates are a better idea because you are essentially just paying the price difference between green power and the power you normally use.

Also, assuming your servers are in Portland, you are probably already using a certain percentage of hydro power, which is certainly more green that fossil fuel generation methods, but isn't without problems (especially for fish). You'd have to decide if hydro power is green enough on its own, or you want to pay extra for solar/wind on the portion of your electricity that comes from hydro power.
posted by ssg at 7:31 PM on January 26, 2008


Oops, should have previewed. Texas uses fossil fuels almost exclusively, unsurprisingly, so just ignore what I wrote above about hydro power.

Since Texas is hot, you'd probably also want to account for the air conditioning required to keep the server cool, though I'm not sure how to estimate that other than asking your hosting company.
posted by ssg at 7:37 PM on January 26, 2008


In that case, Texas lets you choose your electric provider. If you pay for the power there, you can look for a renewable price at Power to Choose, a site owned by the state of Texas with price data from retail electric providers.

If you don't pay the power bill, you can ask who the retail electric provider of your hosting company is, and ask them to switch to a green offer. If they're not interested, your only option is to buy RECs from any of the many providers. Here is one example of a company that sells them; I don't know anything about them, but it looks legitimate. RECs are a definitely a real program. If a MWh was produced with a REC certification, you know it was renewable, definitely don't have the carbon credit hand waving that ssg mentioned.

Also, I do this for a living, so feel free to mefi mail me for more details.
posted by Pants! at 7:38 PM on January 26, 2008


Also, Texas does use a lot of fossil fuels, but also has the most MW of wind capacity of any state in the country, with thousands more MW expected to be installed over the next couple of years.
posted by Pants! at 7:41 PM on January 26, 2008


If only there was a way to power the site with hate.

Or drunkenness!
posted by klangklangston at 7:43 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


This sounds vaguely familiar.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:46 PM on January 26, 2008


Are they're any methane powered web servers? I'm looking for a way to 'give back..'
posted by jonmc at 7:57 PM on January 26, 2008


One of the salesguys at my company left to work for Green House Data "one of the only 100% Wind powered GREEN data centers in the nation." They're not operational yet, but they could be an option (see here for more information on how they are going to be 100% solar and wind powered).
posted by jazon at 7:58 PM on January 26, 2008


Similarly, Greenest Host offers zero emissions web hosting. Unlike other "Green" hosting solutions that rely on RECs to offset their dirty energy usage, we simply don't create the pollution in the first place. We power all of our servers with 100% clean solar power 100% of the time.

I'm skeptical of carbon credits. Not that I don't think they're helpful, just that I notice a certain amount of greenwashing and a tendency to think that they're a panacea. I think they can be a decent first step toward sustainability if you shop wisely.

A solar or wind-powered MeFi would be awesome, if you could afford it.
posted by Tehanu at 8:07 PM on January 26, 2008


Wow, greenwashing is a real word.
posted by smackfu at 8:10 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Tehanu: It looks like Matt was thinking of buying renewable energy credits, not carbon credits. Renewable energy credits aren't totally perfect (you are, after all, increasing the supply of electricity), but they are, on the whole, nowhere near as sketchy as carbon credits.
posted by ssg at 8:22 PM on January 26, 2008


Fuck Planet Earth.
posted by Horken Bazooka at 8:27 PM on January 26, 2008 [7 favorites]


I hear Mabuse has a renewable source of bilious wank that ought to be good for half a watt or so.
posted by Wolof at 8:31 PM on January 26, 2008


"How would I make MeFi greener?"

Don't get distracted by the unfortunate default aesthetics. The green should be white.
posted by bobobox at 9:14 PM on January 26, 2008


Whoops, I meant a carbon offset through renewable energy credits. I'm not saying RECs are sketchy or a bad choice, just that if all else is equal, a switch to a host that is directly powered by a renewable energy source is better because RECs are less direct and more open to something sketchy happening.
posted by Tehanu at 9:58 PM on January 26, 2008


If I wanted to offset the energy required to power the mefi servers, how would I go about doing that?

Change hosting services to one which buys its power from alternative sources, or perhaps downgrade your own household energy usage, either through conservation or on-site solar/electric generation. You might even get a tax offset (cite) for making your own home energy-efficient or -independent, which may change your economics.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:01 PM on January 26, 2008


"I know it's precious and a bit silly to buy credits when you can't really run a computer off wind and solar power 24/7 "

I don't know if anyone is doing this but it would be childs play to have a host run strictly off of wind/solar power with no more outages than any other host. You'd just need to store peak generation. Either with batteries or hydro storage.

The sort of weaselly way is with "grid storage" with positive net metering where the facility sells excess generation to the grid and then uses grid power when their generation isn't meeting demands. As long as they sell more than they buy.
posted by Mitheral at 10:15 PM on January 26, 2008


Even more effective might be to get members to commit to certain energy-saving activities.

For example, I'm guessing that a lot of people on MeFi are energy conscious. Still, maybe not all of them have switched to using energy efficient bulbs. Maybe some of them could take public transportation to work, but don't. Maybe some MeFites could even carpool together and don't know it!

Metafilter is becoming more and more a community site (I mean, even more than it's always been). You could harness that, and just by the numbers that would have a greater long term effect.

There are probably several energy/ecology experts on Metafilter. You could get them to contribute a different "carbon-saving" tip each week that displayed subtly at the top or bottom of the front pages.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:15 PM on January 26, 2008



I don't know if anyone is doing this but it would be childs play to have a host run strictly off of wind/solar power with no more outages than any other host. You'd just need to store peak generation. Either with batteries or hydro storage.

The sort of weaselly way is with "grid storage" ...


I'm inclined to believe that in our current electrical system, grid storage is much greener than battery storage. First of all, batteries take energy to produce, transport, and dispose of properly. Battery storage is nowhere near 100% efficient. When you sell excess energy produced during the day onto the grid, you are displacing the marginal production of electricity which comes almost entirely from burning fossil fuels and you (assuming you have power consuming neighbours) are providing power with almost zero transmission loss. When you buy back from the gird, the power you consume is no worse than the power that your neighbours would have consumed had they not used your excess power during the day.

Obviously, once a significant percentage of North America's total power consumption is produced renewably on site then things start to look a bit different, but that seems unlikely to be the case in the near future.

Hydro storage is a whole other issue, but it isn't going to be practical on the scale of a single web host. There are also a lot of other environmental costs resulting from dams and reservoirs.
posted by ssg at 11:44 PM on January 26, 2008


Keep in mind, Texas has it's own electrical grid, unconnected from the rest of the U.S. At least that was the case a couple years ago.
posted by delmoi at 11:53 PM on January 26, 2008


Considering the amount of idling computers and people this site creates above and beyond the server itself - you're doomed!

The alternative energy credits thing is cool, but you can't really tell where the energy is coming from sometimes. From what I've read, some resellers are much less trustworthy than others.

If I were in your shoes I'd do a bit of legwork and seek out something you can directly invest in or influence. An alternative energy researcher or inventor, or a local project that you could donate money and/or time to - or even a hands-on application of energy reduction in your own home or office.

Something that you can actually get your hands on and see the results. Not only is it more satisfying, but if you go about it carefully it's more effective. And seeing the results directly, especially in your own pockets, makes you want to see more.

There's a lot of things that people have been able to do for years, but haven't simply because of aesthetic reasons or inconvenience. Your wall-warts? Put 'em on power strips and don't hid them - so you can shut them all off easier! LED lights. Heck, go without lights as much as possible and keep an LED headlamp around your neck - charged by solar, if you wish. Put your fridge on the back porch in the winter if it's cold enough! You heat your house, and then cool your fridge? WTF!?

Also, consider consumption. Inspect your trash and waste flow - and minimize it. Aim for zero. Pay attention to packaging in what you buy. Don't buy things heedlessly, or out of boredom.

You could also make sure your server and hardware is as energy effecient as you can - go for slower, cooler CPUs and solid-state disks, maximise architectures for the task at hand (IE, proper front-side bus/clock speed ratios.


This reminds me, however, of an idea I had in which I wished to run an actual "server farm", where all the electricity is literally farmed locally. In my minds eye I see a really cute field of little boxes sprouting tiny windmills and solar panel petals, mixed in with an orchard or a meadow or something, rainbows, butterflies and bunnies and all that shit.

Which, of course, isn't realistic for a real world datacenter, so it would probably have to be an efficient building of a new design that somehow self-cools and is very easy to keep clean, with windmills and/or solar panels on the roof and surrounding property.
posted by loquacious at 11:56 PM on January 26, 2008


How would I make MeFi greener?

Every six hours, shut down MetaFilter for an hour and display text such as "MetaFilter is down for planet maintenance. If you're at home, maybe now would be a good time to turn off your computer, turn off the lights, and go do something that doesn't involve internal combustion engines or electricity. If you're at work, now might be a good time to actually do some work so you can finish early, turn off your computer for the night, and get out before the rush hour starts."
posted by pracowity at 1:46 AM on January 27, 2008


pracowity's suggestion sounds like a much higher-profile version of the consciousness-raising function of the sexism flag: a visible recognition. Every six hours is a bit of a rough sell, but I could see something like a weekly downtime being quite remarkable, if only as a kind of PR stunt. You could get some journalist friends of the site to write up the project idea, give an interview at WorldChanging, and who knows what else? I like it! Hell, cortex can compose a new song, a theme, a Green Down MeFi Blues.
posted by cgc373 at 2:10 AM on January 27, 2008


Here is the data center where I have rack space - it explains their version of being "green" quite nicely.

(side note - if you want rack space for mefi in the same data center, contact me, and I'll assist you)
posted by DreamerFi at 2:48 AM on January 27, 2008


in the future, stationary exercise bicycles attached to microgenerators will be used to store energy for all kinds of things. make people pedal vigorously for sixty seconds before posting a derogatory comment about other users (like me). if this caught on bigtime, i would be open to providing content specifically for other users to derogate, 'cause i'm going green too.
posted by bruce at 2:48 AM on January 27, 2008


If cortex records "Green Down MeFi Blues" and fails to use the verb derogate somewhere in it, I'm resignin' my commission and takin' up smokin'. And I'm gonna buy and drive that yellow Hummer ND¢ linked. And I'll pour WD40s on the curbs for my homies, just to waste the oil.
posted by cgc373 at 3:16 AM on January 27, 2008


Fuck Planet Earth.

I thought this was just hammerhead noise, and was going to bemoan the positive reinforcement of that sorta thing, but held fire, and I'm glad I did, because now I realize that it was a reference to this, and this, and therefore kinda amusing.

That's what I get for visiting Metatalk first.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:01 AM on January 27, 2008


then just buy alternate energy credits for that amount?

You don't know those people, Matt, and have no reason to trust them. Send me money, and I will plant trees on your behalf. I'm open for negotiations, email in profile.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:06 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


How would I make MeFi greener?

Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend (?)

posted by ersatz at 6:20 AM on January 27, 2008


Maybe this question should be tweaked and posted in AskMe. You might get a few more eyeballs and a few more serious responses.
posted by peacay at 6:36 AM on January 27, 2008


if pracowity's suggestion becomes a front-running option, might I suggest that the hour fall during the lunch hour of the flyover states, seeing as those of us outside the US got the largest end of the shaft during the J-Run days?
posted by romakimmy at 7:50 AM on January 27, 2008


loquacious:Put your fridge on the back porch in the winter if it's cold enough! You heat your house, and then cool your fridge? WTF!?

While I agree with the sentiment of your post, I don't think you understand how a fridge works. You don't cool your fridge: a fridge is a heat pump, so it just takes the heat out of your fridge and dumps it into your house. If you put your fridge on your back porch in the winter, you are dumping heat outside your house (of course, the heat pump is not 100% efficient, so you are actually dumping more heat than you are removing from your fridge). In other words, your fridge heats your house. So, as you say, WTF?

However, if you air condition your house in the summer, then there would be an energy benefit to putting your fridge outside while you are air conditioning.
posted by ssg at 8:24 AM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Just to be clear on a couple of points:

RECs are vastly different than some random "carbon offset."

For instance, all of them produced in Texas have to meet standards set by the state, including random inspections. You can be penalized if you misrepresent yourself.

Another way to think of grid storage is flywheel technology. Flywheels spin and take on power, then an electromagnet kicks in and it becomes a generator.

This is more short term storage to reslove frequency issues, but it's still pretty cool. I'm mobile, or I'd include the link to a nifty flash presentation of this. If you want to see it, google for "Beacon Power" - a company that makes them.
posted by Pants! at 8:39 AM on January 27, 2008


How would I make MeFi greener?

Invent a device that converts snark and whining into electricity. We could power a small village with our whining, and a whole city with our snark.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:37 AM on January 27, 2008


I'm always a bit leery of hard to manage saving like 'carbon credits' or 'green power generation'.

Coming at it from the other angle, you can focus on the servers themselves.

A few items are available, but quite expensive. You can use solid state memory instead of hard drives. This reduces the energy consumption of a server greatly, but is very costly.

You can look into high efficiency power supplies for the servers. All power supplies lose some energy in the conversion from AC to DC power. High efficiency is good, but can get expensive.

The cooling system of the room where the servers are is also a big energy user. In general, for every watt that you power the server, you will spend a watt to cool the server. Better ratings on the HVAC system = less power usage.

Taking it even further, you can look at lighting in the server room, UPS efficiencies, etc.

Of course this is all tremendously hard to do remotely when the servers are in a faraway state...
posted by Argyle at 9:49 AM on January 27, 2008


We could power a small village with our whining, and a whole city with our snark.

We built this city. We built this city on snark and lolz.
Built this city. We built this city on snark and lolz.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:03 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


ssg writes "While I agree with the sentiment of your post, I don't think you understand how a fridge works. You don't cool your fridge: a fridge is a heat pump, so it just takes the heat out of your fridge and dumps it into your house. If you put your fridge on your back porch in the winter, you are dumping heat outside your house (of course, the heat pump is not 100% efficient, so you are actually dumping more heat than you are removing from your fridge). In other words, your fridge heats your house. So, as you say, WTF?"

Besides which the compressor isn't designed to run at zero degrees, it's like running your car with summer weight oil in the winter. Compressors that need to run in such conditions are equipped with oil heaters on delay start timers.

And your fridge isn't designed to heat the fresh food compartment to stop the contents from freezing. So this is a pretty bad idea if you get sub zero temperatures and you don't like frozen lettuce.
posted by Mitheral at 10:19 AM on January 27, 2008


But couldn't fridges could be built to operate like that: put a heat exchange coil outside and the rest inside, assuming your fridge is going to stay in one spot? Maybe some kind of hybrid system that also has the standard compressor and so on for days when it isn't cold enough outside? Considering it's running constantly, it could be worth the added cost. There must be a way to take advantage of all that bloody cold air outside.

And couldn't you do something like that with server rooms? You might have a giant server farm generating huge amounts of heat, but if it's a snowy winter outside, it shouldn't be that big a problem to let nature do a lot of the cooling, assuming you design the room with a big enough interface to the outside world.

and it doesn't account for the power required by thousands of readers

How many readers, anyway? How many people are connected to this place?
posted by pracowity at 1:02 PM on January 27, 2008


While I agree with the sentiment of your post, I don't think you understand how a fridge works.

No, I do. I just wasn't clear in mentioning that you should turn the fridge off when it's outside in the cold in the winter.

You don't cool your fridge: a fridge is a heat pump, so it just takes the heat out of your fridge and dumps it into your house. If you put your fridge on your back porch in the winter, you are dumping heat outside your house (of course, the heat pump is not 100% efficient, so you are actually dumping more heat than you are removing from your fridge). In other words, your fridge heats your house. So, as you say, WTF?

Your house first heats your fridge. I'm talking about places where it snows in the winter and it's cold enough to store food outside. You heat your house, which is the only reason the fridge is needing to pump heat out to begin with. If you didn't heat your house in the winter where it stayed cold enough - you wouldn't need to use a fridge in the first place.

Therefore, the heat that is exists within the fridge was already created artificially at the cost of energy - which the fridge then uses more energy to eliminate.

The heat-energy that the fridge generates is more-or-less useless in terms of an centralized HVAC system, and if you think that it somehow balances out and is a neutral process you're deluding yourself.

It'd be like trying to lower your heating bill by running your toaster.
posted by loquacious at 3:53 PM on January 27, 2008


I just wasn't clear in mentioning that you should turn the fridge off when it's outside in the cold in the winter.

There are not very many places were the outdoor temperature is going to stay reasonably close to 3C all winter, or indeed for any significant length of time. Have you actually ever done this? There are a million better ways to reduce your energy consumption than this.

The heat-energy that the fridge generates is more-or-less useless in terms of an centralized HVAC system

Sure, I can see that fridges are often on exterior walls, so you'll probably lose some of that heat the way, and using electricity to heat is a fair bit less efficient than a good gas furnace, but I can't see why you'd think that the heat generated is useless. The laws of thermodynamics still apply.
posted by ssg at 4:31 PM on January 27, 2008



I don't know if anyone is doing this but it would be childs play to have a host run strictly off of wind/solar power with no more outages than any other host. You'd just need to store peak generation. Either with batteries or hydro storage.


AISO.net is doing exactly this. They've been doing it since 2001.
posted by toxic at 7:56 PM on January 27, 2008


But couldn't fridges could be built to operate like that: put a heat exchange coil outside and the rest inside, assuming your fridge is going to stay in one spot? Maybe some kind of hybrid system that also has the standard compressor and so on for days when it isn't cold enough outside? Considering it's running constantly, it could be worth the added cost. There must be a way to take advantage of all that bloody cold air outside.

This is called a "split system." Most large refrigerators, like the ones down in your local grocery that keep the frozen-food cases cold, are built like this. They have the condenser units outside, and then have coolant lines running to the areas to be refrigerated.

This isn't used for domestic refrigerators because it would be inconvenient and expensive. You'd have to get an HVAC tech in, to run all the plumbing, including punching a hole in an exterior wall, and then charge the whole thing with refrigerant. It's just more trouble than most people are willing to go through (or the manufacturers think people are willing to go through -- and in this case I think they're correct) for the boost in efficiency.

I'm sure somebody, somewhere, has figured out the point at which it becomes much more efficient to use a split system for refrigeration than an integrated unit. I think some big commercial refrigerators (and most walk-in units) are split systems, and a lot of domestic air conditioning systems are.

What I've always thought would be a good idea would be to have one large heat pump for your house, located outside, which would then produce chilled and heated coolant (say, propylene glycol or something) that you could use for various applications -- kitchen refrigeration, heating and cooling, hot water pre-boost, etc. Large commercial buildings have chilled water lines for A/C; it's just a question of scale/efficiency and cost, and getting it built into new homes.

An alternative to split systems are integrated evaporator/condenser units with exhaust ductwork to direct the hot air out of the house (like portable A/C units); some non-walk-in commercial fridges are like this.

Anyway, sorry for the derail. I just find refrigeration interesting.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:49 PM on January 27, 2008


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