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Code Can Be Green Too

image credit: ID 159811759 © Aghidel | Dreamstime.com

Infrastructure projects, large buildings, and data centers are always the big prizes in energy savings. But clean and environmental-friendly code might turn out to be low-hanging fruit. 

A recent Wired article discusses the impact of producing clean and crisp programming code on energy use. Danny van Kooten, a Dutch programmer, estimates that he saved 59,000 kgs (approximately 1,300,72 lbs) of energy by snipping code in his Mailchimp plugin for Wordpress. The change resulted in the plugin using 20kb less RAM data. The plugin allows users of Wordpress, a content management system, to link their site to Mailchimp, an email management platform, and turn visitors into subscribers. Van Kooten’s plugin is used on two million websites. 

The European Union’s recent privacy ruling that forced American tech firms, such as Facebook, to delete tracking code is also an example of an initiative that is environment-friendly. It has also resulted in faster loading times for news sites. Finally, UK energy firm Ovo tracked email usage between individuals and found that if every adult in the country sent one less “thank you” email, it would cut 16 tons of carbon each year. That figure is the equivalent of 22 round-trip flights between New York and London, the firm states. 

Of course, it is important to note that the figures I mentioned above are estimates. In the magnificent deluge of tech and emails that floods our daily existence, it is difficult to estimate the impact of individual emails or snippets of code. But it might be worthwhile to consider their logic. 

Green programming is a style of writing code that strives to optimize energy and eliminate redundant and superfluous code. This approach to coding means that it uses less energy and may, possibly, occupy less space on the hard disk and RAM. But there might be tradeoffs involved in terms of user experience. For example, fewer lines of code might mean that the development team may skimp on features and data. 

Complicating the situation further is the current online ecosystem, which is a series of messy interconnections between apps and sites. The multiplication of services on the Internet has resulted in haphazard bits of code stuck next to each other through application programming interfaces (APIs) making for a difficult user experience. 

A 2016 paper on green programming found that optimizing energy usage is important for mobile developers because they have limited battery life (of mobile devices and smartphones) at their disposal to run their programs. However, major programmers for data centers and embedded systems, both of them energy hogs, did not consider energy usage a priority while writing code. The latter group’s rationale was that it might affect overall data usage and user experience. 

What does all of this mean for utility operations? Possibly fewer emails. I couldn’t find estimates of energy consumption at utilities online. That said, one of the interesting things about the IT infrastructure in utilities is that they are relatively self-contained and have fewer connections with the cloud as compared to other industries. The siloed nature of IT apps within utility operations also means that there are fewer service calls involved between them. But the tide is turning and more cloud and SaaS apps means that the chances of increased energy consumption are higher.

Rakesh  Sharma's picture

Thank Rakesh for the Post!

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