Microsoft’s Project Natick Seeks To (Literally) Put Big Data Underwater

by Gage Taylor

Microsoft Research’s New Experiences and Technologies wing (NExT) recently went public with Project Natick, a data center enclosed in a steel capsule designed to rest on the ocean floor. In theory, if developed at a commercial scale, the concept could represent a massive step forward for data storage, as these centers are more easily deployed, reduce consumer latency (due to their proximity to the most populated regions of the earth, the coasts), and save money on air conditioning and cooling compared to traditional server farms. It may also answer the growing energy demands of the tech world, as Microsoft is attempting to pair the system with either a wind or hydropower system to generate electricity. This could mean that no new energy would be added to the ocean, and as a result, there would be no overall heating, a conclusion supported by the early research. Continue reading

Switzerland’s Transition to Sustainable Energy

by Aurora Silva

Switzerland has a long tradition of using nuclear energy. With no reserves of coal, oil, or natural gas of its own, the country had to turn to other sources to meet its energy needs. As a result, a nation of only 8 million people— a bit larger in population than the state of Massachusetts— has five nuclear power plants, making Switzerland one of the top seven nuclear-powered nations on the planet on a per capita basis. Another telling statistic is that nearly 40 percent of Swiss electrical generation comes from nuclear power. To give a sense of what that proportion means, only 19 percent of US electricity is generated from nuclear power. The burning of coal has been of almost no consequence in Switzerland’s total energy mix for the past 50 years—in sharp contrast to the United States, where 44 percent of the nation’s electricity comes from coal. The country’s famed train and trolley systems are all electric, with the energy to power them coming nearly entirely from a combination of hydro and nuclear power. Continue reading

Nature Conservancy to Sponsor World Hydropower Congress

by Emil Morhardt

Yesterday, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) announced that the Nature Conservancy would be one of the main sponsors of its World Hydropower Congress in Beijing next May. In an accompanying piece the Nature Conservancy’s Jeff Opperman explained why. It is an interesting question. I spent much of the two decades between 1975 and 1995 as an environmental consultant to hydropower developers, and the one constant was unrelenting opposition from almost every environmental group. Hydroelectric installations disrupt river flows, block river passage, often inundate great swaths of previously undeveloped watersheds, and do it in a way that is only optimistically renewable, at least where large storage reservoirs are involved; in time all reservoirs fill with sediment, and the projects revert to run-of-river facilities which are generally less valuable and less useful. Continue reading