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Renewable energies are limited by the constraints of their availability. No solar energy is collected at night and the amount of solar energy that can be collected is reduced by clouds and other weather phenomenon. Wind power is also dependent on the availability of winds and can not be easily predicted. This is known as the renewable energy ‘intermittency problem’.
Barath Raghavan, an assistant professor in computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, said that “the way things are going, in five years, the amount of renewable power wasted in California each year will be equivalent to the amount of power L.A. uses each year.”
A solution to the intermittency problem is to store energy collected during peak renewable energy periods in a battery. Some researchers have proposed an ‘Information Battery’. The idea is to shift energy-consuming activities into the peak periods when renewables are collected. In this case the shift is into computations.
For example, Google uses large amounts of computing to pre-calculate search indexes and results. Similarly, companies like YouTube use computer cycles to convert videos into different quality choices and different formats. Shifting computing tasks that can be done asynchronously into periods when renewable energy is collected would mean less energy for computations are needed during the times of day when renewable energy collection is low.
Raghavan said that “the core concept here is that information has an embodied energy to it. Information batteries are going to work well where things are highly predictable. You get that in the case of video encoding, movie rendering, graphics work.”
George Porter, codirector of the Center for Networked Systems at the University of California San Diego, said that “the planetary scale for compute is going up dramatically, and I think that youâ€™re going to see major providers like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook sourcing most or even all of their energy from renewables And so in that particular case, I think managing this intermittency issue is going to be kind of a challenge.”