Environment Variables
The Week in Green Software: Cleaner Energy with Molly Webb
September 28, 2023
TWiGS host Chris Adams is joined by guest Molly Webb from Energy Unlocked for another week in Green Software. In this episode, follow their conversation covering the latest G20 summit in New Delhi and a special announcement they made relating to renewable energy, a surprising move by Apple to now support Right to Repair and their reckons on the subject, as well as news from W3C’s first draft of Wed Sustainability Guidelines, and more. In this episode you can expect to be well informed on the going-ons of the past week and also upcoming events in sustainability and tech. Tune in for an open and exciting chat on The Week in Green Software.
TWiGS host Chris Adams is joined by guest Molly Webb from Energy Unlocked for another week in Green Software. In this episode, follow their conversation covering the latest G20 summit in New Delhi and a special announcement they made relating to renewable energy, a surprising move by Apple to now support Right to Repair and their reckons on the subject, as well as news from W3C’s first draft of Wed Sustainability Guidelines, and more. In this episode you can expect to be well informed on the going-ons of the past week and also upcoming events in sustainability and tech. Tune in for an open and exciting chat on The Week in Green Software.

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Molly Webb: [00:00:00] It's about, "is my device that's sitting in my home behind a meter somehow going to be able to make itself visible to the grid and then be coordinated as a virtual power plant?" And even though we've heard the jargon and we talk about virtual power plants, we're really not there yet. That's the key part for software.

Chris Adams: Hello, and welcome to another episode of This Week in Green Software, where we bring you the latest news and updates from the world of sustainable software development. I'm your host, Chris [00:01:00] Adams. In this episode, we cover some ambitious new goals at the recent G20 meeting on renewable energy and how that might affect green software.

We'll cover Apple's recent about-face on right to repair, the first set of web sustainability guidelines from the W3C, and finally some eye opening stats on data center energy usage in Ireland. Finally we'll share some exciting events from the world of green software as well. But before we dive in, let me introduce my guest and colleague for this episode of This Week in Green Software.

With us today, we have Molly Webb of Energy Unlocked. Hi Molly.

Molly Webb: Hi, Chris.

Chris Adams: Thank you very much for joining us. Molly, I know that we've gone back for a while actually, but for people who are new to you, would you take a moment to just introduce yourself and see where you're, just explain where you're coming from and then we can begin the show.

Molly Webb: Great, thank you. I'm Molly Webb. I have been living in London since 2003 in [00:02:00] spite of my American accent. I set up an organization called Energy Unlocked in 2015 after working in climate change advocacy for many years and my focus on climate change advocacy was all in software to IT and telecommunications industry and how you would apply novel software or digitally enabled solutions to solve climate change. So Energy Unlocked in 2015 was focused on challenge-led processes to support new entrants and businesses and cities to accelerate their energy transitions. And then in just recently, I've set up a spin out called Pure Carbon, which I'm sure we'll talk about later.

Chris Adams: Cool. Thank you, Molly. Now, Molly, it's nice to be on a call with you again, because I believe we might've met back in the, at least, oh my God, in the early 2010s, [00:03:00] when I was working at a wacky startup called AMEE, which stood for Avoid Mass Extinction Engine, there was a meetup, I think it was called CleanWeb London, and I think I might've seen you presenting one time there. 

So yeah.

Molly Webb: It I was back in 2007 that I started working on "what is the role of IT and telecommunications in climate change?" And I feel like I've, it's still a small world, but at the time it really was a small world.

So I'm not surprised we didn't, that we met then. Great. Yeah. So yeah. It's

Chris Adams: It's good, lovely to have you back and to be running through some of this show with me again. So for people who are new to this podcast, my name is Chris Adams, as I mentioned before. I am the executive director of the Green Web Foundation. That's a small Dutch non-profit focused on reaching an entirely fossil free internet by 2030, and I also work as the policy chair for the Green Software Foundation. [00:04:00] And as you might know, I am the host of this podcast. All right. So. If you are new to this show, what we do on this weekly show is we basically look at a series of stories that have showed up on our radar, that are of interest, where there's a kind of green software angle, and we basically just talk about them and share some of the, some of our own reckons on this.

So that's the plan. We'll share all the links to these stories along with anything else that comes up from this. And yeah, that's generally the plan. All right, Molly, should we start with the first story?

Molly Webb: Great.

Chris Adams: Okay, all right, so the first story we have, we know that there was a big G20 meeting in New Delhi, but one of the key things was there was an agreement to basically pursue tripling renewable energy capacity globally by 2030 and another thing about accepting basically a phase down to get off coal power. There's a few other things that took place here, but for our kind of niche podcast, this is the thing that was of interest and we thought might be worth [00:05:00] talking about. And we figured this would make green software easier, right?

Because there'll be a lot more green energy. But it turns out there's a bit more complicated to that, and you need to design for green software for this. And Molly, I figured, like, it might be worth asking you about some of this, or see if you've got any reckons on this particular story, because, yeah, you've got a background with some of this as well.

Molly Webb: So, yeah, it's really encouraging when governments commit to changing the energy system, typically, and this is electricity, right, so we need to power grids with cleaner electricity, and then the flip side of that is that we need to actually shift more of our consumption to electricity, so we can't just heat our homes with gas and then applaud our efforts to accelerate grid decarbonization, we have to actually electrify our demand. So I think while I'm excited when [00:06:00] I see this, I often think once these big announcements happen, it's because the problems have been solved. So it's not really controversial to accelerate the renewables. It's tough to get permitting for transmission networks. It's tough to get permitting for onshore wind or anything that is going to impact on the pristine countryside or how people view where are they where you should do the the manufacturing of these things but what's exciting what's more exciting to me is we have a massive challenge in shifting to all electric transport shifting to all electric heat and doing that at a, at least three times the pace that we're doing it now. So yeah, it needs, it's "yes, and."

Chris Adams: Absolutely, 

Molly Webb: I have a bit of a rant about that, I guess. Yeah.

Chris Adams: No, this is absolutely correct. This is one of the, there is this kind of slogan, which is electrify everything, then clean the electricity. And then that's basically one of the big plans to get through to this. And you mentioned there's [00:07:00] a few ways, some of the kind of big challenges facing us, like decarbonizing transport largely revolves around if you're going to be replacing, say, ICE, internal combustion engines, then it's often going to be things with EVs, which means there's going to be a significant demand on the grid there.

And that's assuming you're going to replace it all with cars, which is not necessarily true where, and isn't always the one golden path. And also you spoke a little bit about the idea of dealing with how we stay warm and one of the key things is moving away from burning gas in furnaces to using things like heat pumps, which are still considered somewhat kind of magical, even though they're actually quite old now, I think, Molly, don't you 

Molly Webb: Hmm. And there, the problem isn't the technology anymore with heat pumps, it's really the installation. It's having enough people who have the skills and the awareness of what they're doing when they install a heat pump, that all of the standards that go around that, how you make sure that there's going to be maintained and kept up. So there's a lot of, I would say the small stuff that [00:08:00] doesn't happen at a G20 summit that's got to happen if we're going to see heat pumps and other technologies that are tested and tried and completely ready for commercialization. They just start still at small enough scale that no one quite knows how we're going to pull all those pieces together.

Chris Adams: I agree with you. This is actually, now that you do have this kind of statements of intent, it really gets down to the kind of boring, but necessary stuff around legislation or making it easy to actually do some, do some of this stuff and make sure you know how to get the right supplies and everything like that, for example.

Molly Webb: But back to 'why software?', it's very tempting to think, "Oh, I just put a heat pump and then I'm done." That heat pump needs to have connectivity. It needs to be able to be coordinated. It needs to be carbon aware, not just aware of the grid needs, but aware, is it consuming low carbon or high carbon kilowatt hours?

And now there's a difference, right? You can have, my home consumes maximum couple of kilowatt hours [00:09:00] at any at any time. So your home isn't consuming very much. And so the challenge of having all of those small, tiny loads connected and then coordinated in a way that doesn't break the grid is an absolutely terrifying challenge for grid operators. And no one's quite figured, figured that one out either. So as much as it's hard to actually deploy it and get it into a site, then you need it to be connected and coordinated. And there are some new standards, like the MATTER standard, I mentioned, um, before this, um, recording, but there's some new standards, some new thinking about how you would make it easier to do that coordination. With Pure Carbon, we're trying to give another financial incentive for that coordination to be possible. So adding a layer of essentially paying for the Carbon Aware value of coordinating these devices. But it's such small stuff, right? It's not, "oh, I'm going to build a gigawatt scale power plant. And [00:10:00] that's really easy to ensure that over 40 years I'm going to have a market for that power."

It's about, "is my device that's sitting in my home behind a meter somehow going to be able to make itself visible to the grid and then be coordinated as a virtual power plant?" And even though we've heard the jargon and we talk about virtual power plants, we're really not there yet. That's the key part for software,

Chris Adams: yes

Molly Webb: software challenges there.

Chris Adams: Yeah, software is good for coordination. And this is actually one thing we'll just briefly touch on because you've mentioned this term, which for people who may have never heard of it, it might sound like, "what is a virtual power plant?" So the idea basically speaks to this notion that there are two ways of making sure that supply and demand are actually needed, like the amount of power that we need and the amount that gets generated.

So. One way is to basically make sure you've always got supply. Like the massive G20 announced to have lot announcement to have lots and lots of power. But the other option is [00:11:00] just to scale back some of your demand. And the notion of a virtual power plant is basically, if you get enough people together or organizations together or devices together to coordinate how they scale up and down their use of power, you basically don't need to build so much supply in the first place.

So it's a bit like a kind of, it's a coordinated equivalent to having a power plant. This is generally idea behind a virtual power plant and it's a pretty cool idea. And it's something that is, I feel like it's, Molly, it feels only now are we really seeing the kind of support from a kind of policy point of view to actually do this now.

It's been like, a cool idea for 10 years. And now we're finally seeing people start having some interest in actually being able to do this, particularly in America, but also possibly in how people are redesigning how the grid works in the UK and in Europe as well.

Molly Webb: Yeah, I mean there are energy communities coming in the new, in Europe, and that is spurring investment so that you [00:12:00] can be paid to coordinate between each other in a community, so that you're essentially balancing out your load, the shape of your load in a community before it hits the grid, and there's a legislation in the US as well for 2 2 2 2 that's going to allow much smaller and smaller loads to participate. But it is, your dishwasher is basically a kilowatt capacity. It's going to consume not very much at once, so you need a million dishwashers to coordinate, to have this sort of scale that the grid is used to dealing with.

And that will be in different places the grid is used to dealing with one power plant in one place, and it's a known quantity. So in spite of the fact that we're starting to see the frameworks, we don't necessarily have quite the same focus on technology to deliver it as we have traditionally had when you focus on technologies like building networks and transmission lines, building [00:13:00] power plants.

Chris Adams: Indeed. We'll talk about that a little bit later on, because if nothing else, I learned about the, some work with MySociety about trying to bring around this new law around community energy, and we'll talk about that later because it's just, it's too good a pun to miss. But in the meantime, let's have a look at the next story.

So our next story here is actually about Apple. This is from Grist Magazine, and uh, it's an, 

it's, yes, yeah, it's a historic about-face. Apple have come out to support, uh, right to repair for their equipment. Now, this is interesting because for the longest time, Apple has basically been saying, "no, we think the best way to maintain the quality of any kind of electronics is to make sure everything comes back to us and then we'll basically sell it back to you later on," for example, or "we'll take these apart and then you'll purchase an entirely new machine."

Now, Apple have changed their tune to basically say, "yes, we think that rights to repair is a good thing and, uh, it's good for the, it's good for business and it's actually good for, [00:14:00] uh, end-users and consumers." This is really interesting because Microsoft, Apple is now the second of the very, very large companies to come, come out in favor of this after Microsoft did a somewhat similar event, had a similar about turn in the last six months ago, and we'll share a link to that.

The reason I figure it might be interesting for us to talk about this, Molly, is that you have this shift from holding on to something for a very long period of time now. So rather than having a kind of 18 month kind of cycle where you have a phone and then you throw it or, and then someone buys another one, which is really bad for the planet, this kind implies a much longer life cycle and a lifetime for equipment.

And I guess a kind of very different for want of a better word, do people use a duty cycle for something? If it's gone for a long period of time, 

or it's something like that, I think. And I figured this changes how you design for things for, for a start. And it makes you think about designing for a longer period of time and making devices [00:15:00] work a bit better and make something work on lower spec machines, for example, but I guess there's a bunch of other considerations if you have equipment that might last five or 10 years, for example. And Molly, I think this is something that you might've had some experience with, or that you did a 

Molly Webb: Yeah. I wish I knew more about the competitive reasons why they would have switched. I always think "what's their competitive advantage?" Are the supply chain issues making the return and refurbishment just a real nightmare, and so they're like "Sure. Let's get a bunch of mom and pop shots out there, refurbishing our equipment. That's fine." Are there bottlenecks with materials in the supply chain that make them want to slow down the sale or something? I'm, they obviously don't want to slow down sales, but there's got to be something in there is what it makes me think of,

but I do think if you have things for longer, I remember, was it Fairphone in the UK?

Didn't they? Yeah. But it does make me think you need more in the [00:16:00] cloud, more software. You need to be able to do things that once you have some, or aren't reliant on, say, the chip in the phone or whatever it is, or you'll need to be even more modular about the hardware design and be able to switch out some of those key components. So yeah, it's exciting because you really don't need to replace that phone all the time, though, if constantly you're breaking it too, so. For that reason, you might need to replace it. You need better cases that when they drop, when you drop the phone, it doesn't completely shatter.

Chris Adams: It can be a bit harder to have a waterproof case if you have to make it easy to, for people to open up, because if you make it easy to let people in, it can make it easy to let water in, which is one of the challenges that I think Fairphone had previously as well, and 

recently, yeah, Fairphone, so they, I believe they announced this Fairphone 5 in the last few months, and this is the first one which is somewhat waterproof compared to the previous ones, which were definitely not waterproof, [00:17:00] and they too they've actually, I think they are, they've gone on the record saying they expect to support this phone for 10 years from this, which is 

a far cry from what we had before.

It also, like you 

Molly Webb: I, yeah, no, I was just over the weekend in London. It was still the heat wave, went to the pool and saw someone in the pool with their phone,

and I thought that is, it's just to say there's a human, we will have to change our behavior a lot around these devices if they're going to last longer.

It will be really interesting and I think a lot about the materials that supply these things. So I think shifting to a more life cycle approach with phones, like you need to do with other, when you sell a wind turbine, you know how long it takes that wind turbine to work off the embodied carbon associated with it. When you sell a phone, you don't really think that way. So it'll be interesting if we can

shift to more [00:18:00] lifecycle analysis, where some of the data you were looking at with AMEE back in the day would help you do the embodied carbon assessments. And we're just maybe getting to the point where we could do more of that.

Chris Adams: You're right, actually. There is, there was a recent legislation passed about how all, especially in Europe, about every device having to have replaceable batteries, but that, it was either coming in 25, 2025 or 2027, there was something like that. So maybe one of the things that's come up here is that actually there's a bunch of really low value repairs that you don't want to do yourself, or it's really hard for you to justify doing.

And then if you open a fig leaf here, then. You're able to at least look like a very good kind of corporate citizen whilst giving away the thing which didn't make you that much money in the first place, for I don't know. 

Molly Webb: There is also Scope 3 reporting, mandatory reporting coming into Europe in 2025 which will affect a lot of companies with European operations.

So that will be interesting to see how [00:19:00] far companies take that.

Chris Adams: You're right. Okay. This is, right. This is, this is going to be an interesting one. Um, for people who've been listening last week, we did a bunch, uh, in about Scope 1, 2, and 3 reporting. So, uh, if you are really into, uh, the GHG protocol, that's the place to go. Um, in the meantime, though, uh, we were talking a little bit about how you might design for, uh, devices that last for a longer period of time.

And the good news is that W3C, as in, yes, the people who define what the web is, essentially, the next story is actually about them sharing their first ever web sustainability guidelines, the version one of this from the sustainable web design group. So this is interesting and I figured this might be a nice one for us to talk about, Molly, because this is essentially a full spec, full set of recommendations that you can follow. And, uh, typically when you have large organizations or large specs being put together, it's often considered that these are [00:20:00] only large organizations that are able to really influence how some of these guidelines are put together. It was a real community push.

So there were people representing say large companies associated, but there was also like Tim Frick, for example, one of the guys who's been, who wrote Sustainable Web Design way, way back in 2016, for And there's a bunch of freelance developers and people associated with this as well who've been working on this. And I'm going to make sure that I'm going to look through to make sure I haven't forgot some of the names, but Molly, I figured this idea of actually something which is being pushed from the kind of bottom up, as it were, rather than being where you tend to have one or two very large organizations influencing the surface, I figured it might be something that you might have some reckons on because, yeah, you've seen how some of the sausage gets made a few times and 

this, yeah, 

I is there, are there any kind of corresponding things 

Molly Webb: I just, I. 

Chris Adams: brings to mind for you?

Molly Webb: I wish there were more successful case studies of real bottom up standards or communities coming together that then have a really big [00:21:00] influence, but because generally right now, I think we're going to talk about 24/7 carbon free push for accounting for electricity at the hour, as opposed to annually, and that is certainly enabled by software.

So the big software companies like Microsoft and Google and even Amazon have different strategies for how that should happen. And so they've really been able to influence that agenda, not necessarily in a bad sense, but it has really been large companies with a lot of capacity, able to hire whole teams that can look into this and then push it out, I guess, I look at industry associations, and often those industry associations can be captured by the sort of lowest common denominator, so I do what's going on with LF Energy, with the work on the carbon data standards, Working Groups, and I like, so some of the open [00:22:00] source work is really, I think, great to look at. But yeah, if it would be Interesting if there were more, if there was a way to have this bottom up small startups, I mean, Energy Unlocked, we set out to work with startups and to give them a bigger platform and a bigger voice. And it's really tricky, not just because it's hard to get a common message from startups, but also because they just don't have the time to be working on this.

They're in survival mode.

So this is a great example. I'm going to look into that one.

Chris Adams: Yeah. I really, I think I'm really happy to see this because, so there's two things with the actual article open, there's a couple of things that it's worth referring to. So, initially, there was actually something called the Sustainable Web Manifesto that was put together a while back, like a good few years ago, that has its own website and we'll share a link to that.

That people, a bunch of people started signing and, uh, it got some people really excited and interested [00:23:00] in this. These guidelines also actually refer to the GRI, which is the global, it's the Global Resource 

Institute. Thank you. The Global Reporting Initiative. So there is, yeah, there's a whole kind of like techie angle on it, but there's also actually that there's this real push to bring in some kind of rigor that you see in the sustainability world to really address some of these issues here.

And the thing that's also really nice is that. It looks like the, some of the strategies that we've seen successfully used for accessibility are being adopted here. So there is a, this set of guidelines called the Web Content Access Guidelines, which are specifically around making it easy for you to tell if a website is considered accessible.

And, uh, they each have a kind of, there's a rubric, which was, I think it's POUR, P O U R, which is perceivable. As in, can I perceive the information that I need to access? Operable, as in, can I operate the actual device? Can I do something? So this is a lot about not being tied to have to use a mouse, for [00:24:00] example, if you maybe don't have access to that, for example.

One of them, which is understandable, I believe, which is relatively self explanatory, and the final one, which is robust. So R being robust, being you want to have some kind of technology that's together. And it's worth looking at the guidelines at a glance, there's a short version of this with the editors named Alexander Dawson, Tim Frick, and Neil Clark of TX Impact and Tim Frick of MightyBytes I've mentioned before.

There's a bunch of things to look through. I think this is a real triumph and it's really nice to see this make it out the door because it's been in work, it's been, people have been working on it for a while. All right. Okay.

Molly Webb: It's amazing, thanks.

Chris Adams: All right, Molly, the last one is going to be a little bit about, um, you did allude to some of this before about the power being used by different organizations, by different, like, in a house or something.

This is the story about Ireland, actually. Over the last month, a pretty impressive or eye opening stat was [00:25:00] published by the Central Statistics Office of Ireland. Basically stating that in the last year, data centers' metered electricity consumption in 2022 was 18 percent of all of Ireland's electricity usage.

And that was basically the same as 18 percent of all the urban dwelling. So the data centers in Ireland use the same amount of electricity as all the cities in Ireland. And when you would have this coming from say a campaigning group, that might be one thing, but when it's coming from the statistics body, this is a really interesting and eye opening stat that I haven't, I haven't seen before. And this is, I think it speaks to some of Ireland's unique role in kind of infrastructure and particularly digital infrastructure, because Molly, you mentioned before that this felt like a bit of an outlier. There's a global figure for electricity usage by data centers and things, and then this one here, which seems to be massively higher than what you might typically expect.

Molly Webb: Yeah, it's [00:26:00] really interesting. I study urban carbon footprints, and of an urban carbon footprint, it's often buildings that are the biggest contributor, and that's commercial and domestic buildings. And then, of domestic buildings, of the city's footprint, I guess you'd say domestic is one third of energy, but that's also heating, which isn't electricity, right?

And then, what percentage of a household's consumption is electric as opposed to other forms of energy? And that's usually like a third again. So you could see how the pie shrinks, but to say that urban dwellings are 18 percent of final energy electricity consumption, and then same with data centers, is to me the first time I've seen them on par, because the International Energy Agency is still saying 1 to 2%. I think this is where my big sort of fear when I heard of the Pace of AI and ChatGPT kind of solutions, [00:27:00] I was like, "that is really power hungry stuff" and we're gonna see a real increase there and we know how, how much data centers just continue to increase in terms of consumption. So I'm surprised to still see the 1 to 2% of global emissions from data centers as the kind of, that's what we said back in 2008 when we did this work with McKinsey on what's the direct footprint of the industry, and it was like 2%, and that included devices, it included laptops, not just data centers. So I'm thinking data centers have grown as a proportion globally. But when you see a stat like that from Ireland, you can really feel the, the the scale of it and we're going to just see that grow. I would love to see better numbers. I felt like I had seen some better numbers on data centers and now I can't find them again. I'm like, did someone post something and then remove it cause it was too incriminating? So I, if anyone [00:28:00] has good stats out there, send them. 

Chris Adams: This is a nice kind of elegant segue to some of this whole policy fight that's taking place right now. So just for context, there's a couple of links for this. So we spoke a little bit more about, okay, this is energy usage, and we've spoken before about how You need to think about demand usages. You think about matching the amount that you need, uh, for power.

You can basically, yes, you can have more supply, but you can also think about how much demand you need to have. This is one thing that you might want to be aware of, or that it's worth being cognizant of when you think about this kind of stuff. And there is actually a story I've linked to, which is actually from earlier on in the year.

Uh, this is basically about Microsoft trying to, uh, take steps to essentially integrate data centers into the grid, because as Molly just mentioned, Molly, you, if you've got a big load, if you can reduce that, yes, you can get like a million dishwashers to scale back. But if you have a really chunky facility, if you can scale that back, that's actually [00:29:00] one other way of dealing with this kind of varying amount of power that's going to come in and out of the grid based on how, how sunny it is, or how much the wind's blowing and so on and things like that. And I believe this is something that you've spoken about before. And I think this is some of the things that you're doing right now. The story we'll link to is basically a story about Microsoft building data centers such that they can do this and they're expecting to be paid and compensated for this.

And as I understand it, it's not just data centers who, who. Who are basically trying to find ways to build like a economic model to integrate or, I don't know, what's the word we use? Grid choreography? I don't know, there's got to be something you call it, 

Molly Webb: I say carbon aware

Chris Adams: Carbon aware, yeah that's used in lots of places.

Molly Webb: Yeah, but it is choreography,

Chris Adams: Yeah. 


Molly Webb: Algorithms. 

Chris Adams: Yeah, I think choreography's cool, right? 

It stops it being so much about, I don't know, there's all these other metaphors we could explore which aren't about military, but are evocative and [00:30:00] visual, basically. So yeah, I know, 


Molly Webb: A dance. 

Chris Adams: Yeah, it's a dance, all right? Orchestration, we 

Molly Webb: certainly. Yeah. Yeah. We do use orchestration and instrumentation. Google and Microsoft have been saying it's important to look at every hour because the kilowatt hour is no longer the same depending on the time of day when it's generated, so a kilowatt hour's carbon intensity will be different if it's sunny or windy. And so when we consume it, we can look at not just reducing demand, but changing the time, deferring or shifting demand. One approach is hourly matching, so just look at the match of what you procure and what you use. And you also, what you consume on the grid, what you procure, and what you actually use. The problem with that approach is... You can get around not shifting your demand if you can find a good power purchase

agreement to buy some cleaner [00:31:00] energy from somewhere nearby. That's great. And then you have what is called like emissions first, where you look at emissions only. And so you would say, "Hey, I'm Microsoft and I have a data center in somewhere with completely clean grid and somewhere with a completely dirty grid."

So like, Finland versus South Africa, and you would say, okay, I'm going to move my computing load to the cleaner country. And then what I work on is cities. So cities can't just move all of their buildings to another country. They're stuck in place, but they also can't control how the entire city procures. So, we're in this combination of an hourly matching strategy and an emissions first strategy, and what I do and have been working on for the last three years is analyzing the carbon value of this carbon aware demand, and sometimes you can get up to 30 percent annual savings by just [00:32:00] shifting your demand to be more aware and not use the high carbon intensive kilowatt hours. And then now it's the question, is that value worth a while enough to someone to pay you for it? And if they're going to pay you for it, are you definitely using that to invest in electrification

and low carbon alternatives? So that's the sort of path I've been on to create more of a location based, carbon aware strategy for cities and for companies that operate in cities and want to be able to maximize every option now to reduce carbon, even before they can afford the big new change, like a heat pump or, or electrifying their vehicle fleet.

Chris Adams: I think we're going to need a word for this third approach that people are taking, because it's actually, 

Molly Webb: I call it carbon flexing. 

Chris Adams: Carbon flexing. Okay, we'll go with carbon flexing for now, because

Molly Webb: But we do need,

Chris Adams: it's, uh, because I believe [00:33:00] so that, I forget the name, Magee, I forget his surname, but he 

was also, Magee, he he was also talking about this idea that, yes, there are things you can do to arrange a big power purchase agreements, you buy all the power, like the 24/7 thing you mentioned, or there's an emissions first approach, which Amazon and Facebook quite pushing quite a lot now, right now, where they're saying,

"I care less about the hourly time, that's important, but what's more important is matching it to the dirtiest energy I can find to get, take that off the grid as it were. So I'm displacing some of it that way." 

And then this third approach, which I understand that what you folks are doing and also what, I think what Carbon is doing in America is basically finding another way of saying "we have all this decarbonization that has to happen and if we don't have the actual policy support to do that right now, there needs to be another way to pay for that to happen."

And there are ways that you can incentivize people to change their behavior. As I understand it, when I heard you describing, that seems to be the same, not, a similar approach, there's all this other really dirty emitting use of energy we need to do something [00:34:00] about, and there are, there are steps that you can take to shift people's behavior.

And if they can do that, then if compensating them makes them more likely to do that, then that's an option. And if people are able to build a service around that, then that's something that corporates or people with the means may choose to do as one way meet some of their own kind of climate contributions, I suppose, for this goal, this shared goal that we all have.

Molly Webb: Yeah, the way I look at it is that a lot of the policy is focused on 2035 when our grid is fully decarbonized and what should the tariffs be and it actually does take that long to change fundamental things like pricing and tariff design because it needs to be tested and there are experiments going on. In the meantime, we can use voluntary initiatives like the ones that companies can instigate as almost like testing grounds now, but they can do it at scale to demonstrate that their demand is going in a certain [00:35:00] direction and then that informs policy as well. So we help increase the pace of the policy change, but we also do it before there's a regulation in place, and that's, I think it is very aligned with WattCarbon.

It's, I love that they're, what they're working on.

Chris Adams: It's good that you both have the word carbon in it, so you at least have some idea, and you agreed to carbon flexing, whatever that is. All right, we've just got a bit off track, because we were talking about data centers in Ireland a minute ago, and one thing that we were saying was that one of the things, these numbers seem hard to get your head around, and the link we've shared actually shows a link directly through to like the spreadsheet that you can look at yourself, if you fancy, but the thing that I, you said, which I found quite interesting was that you're saying that houses, we've got this figure of lots of power being used here right now. And I know that right now there is a law that is currently going through in Europe, the energy efficiency directive, which basically says organizations, if any kind of data center facility, that's [00:36:00] using more than a hundred kilowatt, kilowatts of demand, not kilowatt hours, kilowatts of demand. They all need to start sharing information about how clean the energy is, as in how much of it is from renewable sources. Uh, what is the kind of water footprint, how much power is used over the given year and stuff like that to inform the kind of policy discussion.

Now, when I was looking at these figures here, a hundred kilowatts, I felt like that's not a small amount. That's, it's not ginormous, but it's relatively sizable. I think, uh, you mentioned say, dishwasher running at full blast being a kilowatt hour for example and I know that I think in the UK I think the average usage for a house works out to be about over a year it's maybe, say, three, I think the 

average is 

Molly Webb: to 5, 000 kilowatt

Chris Adams: Yeah, exactly.

So that works to be around, what, 300 to 500 watts solid at the entire time. And a data center, that's a hundred times that. So if 100 kilowatts was quite small, what we've seen in the last month or so is that the [00:37:00] threshold for reporting has now gone up to 500 kilowatts, right? So you've basically got, gone from, let's look, what's it, maybe a hundred kilowatts, that's what, 200 houses, assuming roughly, right?

You've gone from 200 houses and now the most recent kind of threshold for reporting is now at 500. So basically you've gone from 200 houses to a thousand houses, households worth, worth of energy usage. That's the threshold for being able to actually report and share any information now. Now it feels, if we are struggling to understand these figures and we're struggling to actually have a data informed discussion, I really feel like this multiplying the minimum threshold by five times is not going to make it easy for us to have a kind of honest discussion about how we actually share the supply of electricity to various places, or how we actually integrate with the grid. Now, I just wanted to just speak to someone who might have some figures on this, because yeah, they, the intuition that you shared of three to 5, 000, that's what I thought.

And these numbers [00:38:00] don't seem all that small. Is a hundred kilowatts a big load these days?

Molly Webb: No, it's a small load from the grid's point of view.

That's the thing. So, anything under a megawatt, like 500 kilowatts, 100 kilowatts is small. I'll just give you the example of UK Power Networks

in London again, because I'm here. They had a minimum threshold 500 kilowatts for participation in their procurement of demand-side flexibility.

So, what are they going to call on when the grid is congested to turn down? They had a 500 kilowatt threshold minimum, and then they lowered it to 100 because they thought, "oh, we're not getting enough of this small stuff." So, from the grid point of view, they think a megawatt and under is teeny. But from a person who's a company that's trying to aggregate a thousand homes, the lower the minimum, the better, because then you don't need as much contracting and commercial

arrangements with all of these decentralized players.

Right? So my [00:39:00] first thought is 500 kilowatts, still small. So it's still under a megawatt. I'm happy about that, but it is the wrong direction, right? Everything else is going more and more small scale to, for reporting and other things, and this seems to be going the other way. So I guess I think of the, I think it was called the Medium Combustion Directive or something like this with diesel

generators. I'm trying to think of the exact acronym, but there's regulation on the size of a diesel generator that you need to report on. And so the way that the industry gets around it is just splitting up these diesel gen sets into smaller and smaller chunks so that they can get under this threshold. So the higher you make this threshold, the more a megawatt plant suddenly is actually two 500 kilowatt, 499 kilowatt plants and they get away with it. So that's what you've, I think, got to be thinking about is, [00:40:00] there's some gaming of this going on behind the scenes so less reporting has to happen. We definitely don't want that.

Chris Adams: Yeah. And what you just said just now about if you've got like people basically designing an entire grid or a market so that people do get compensated or paid to integrate more, integrate into the grid, then surely having this information is going to be more helpful. I just, when I, when I learned about this, it just seemed like such a step backwards and I really hope that we don't see this taking place because for the longest time, this was like some of

most impressive legislation specifically to help with things like green software, because these kind of data, this data that's necessary really helps inform some of the decisions we make as engineers, if we're going to design a system to, you know, work in a kind of choreographed manner with the grid, if we're going to use that language.

Molly Webb: I think we have to realize that the increase in consumption of all of our computing is going to make a megawatt seem smaller and smaller, [00:41:00] at the same time that we want to get more and more visibility on what's going on in order to choreograph it, and a lot of that electrification of heating and transport is going to also increase electricity consumption, so we're dealing with a growing power sector just, well, at a time when the power sector in Europe, at least, hasn't seen demand growth very much.

It's seen it stayed pretty flat or even declined because of efficiency measures. So we're in a new world where it's going to be a much more decentralized coordination challenge, a much bigger electrics, electricity demand growth than we're used to at the same time that we're changing, we're, we're seeing the impacts of things like weather events on the resiliency of all of this infrastructure.

So lots to keep the grid operators awake at

night. Yeah. 

Chris Adams: really does feel like a thing to have more visibility on, not less visibility on, even if it 

is a bit harder to actually collate some of this information, which [00:42:00] should be easier now because it's 2023 and we have computers to tabulate stuff.

Molly Webb: I know.

Chris Adams: All right. Okay. I'll get off my soapbox and just run through the last events and I think we'll wrap up.

Okay. So we just have a few events, which, uh, may be of interest to listeners. So we have a Cloud Native Sustainability Week taking place in October. We've got a link for that. That's a virtual event all around. There's lots and lots of talks. And then finally, there's this decarbonize software on the 16th of November.

This is open and this is a follow-on from the kind of carbon hack we did last year. And those are like the events that are coming up, but there's a bunch of other big, significant events taking place if you think about climate and not necessarily tech. And Molly, this is something we were talking about before, because you mentioned there's NY Climate Week and there's COP, and there's always a COP these days.

So yeah, what's, what's on your radar for the next couple of months that you might point people to if they have an interest in climate?

Molly Webb: Yeah, I tend to follow tech or climate and the two meeting [00:43:00] is rarer, but we're all definitely looking toward COP. This is the UN General Assembly coming up at the end of this month, and that's where we have Climate Week NYC, lots of announcements, people get together and talk and set targets and then I'm hopeful that there'll be more at this COP on the buildings and more decentralized.

So, I think that's the initiatives side of things, because often that's missing the organization that will probably do something on the 24/7 carbon free hourly matching, carbon emissions, emissions first, or carbon flexing strategies aside. SE4ALL is the organization that's been pushing a UN Global Compact on 24/7 carbon free energy. So, they'll likely be doing something at COP. So we're looking at all of that. I'm very curious if anyone sees anything to do with the power [00:44:00] hungry AI chips and climate, because I think it's a huge, it's a huge change this year when we were starting last year when we've seen breakthroughs in AI and we're seeing the weather events and other really scary impacts of climate change. And so you want AI to be applied to those challenges in a very rapid, urgent, systematic way or agile way, maybe not systematic, opportunistic. I don't care. Apply the, apply it because we are going to see that there's all of this power. The power needs to drive AI, and then you want to see it doing, having the right outcomes on the other side from a climate perspective. So that's what I think

Chris Adams: Um, very much so, I think, um, just as you were talking about that, and when you mentioned AI, it got me realizing, I, so this hundred kilowatt figure, which I thought was large, which, which, which is all right, I was trying to see how can I do that if I've just got a bunch of a, [00:45:00] say GPUs, like these chips used in AI, apparently I, I asked around and I think If you, you could plausibly get, I think with the new, the NVIDIA A800, they use enough power that you can put a few of them, I think, I reckon you can basically use two racks, just two racks by themselves.

It could be enough to hit a hundred kilowatt hours, sorry, a hundred kilowatts of demand. So just two racks is going to be sufficient. And when you compare that to two racks or 200 houses that really puts some of this in perspective about how much power is being used for this stuff and why it's important for it to coming from renewable places and actually that it's the way that it's deployed is actually in a kind of, in a more equitable fashion.

Oh my God. I'm going to stop there because we're just going to go off off on one because. 

Molly Webb: Yeah. That's a whole other podcast. 

Chris Adams: All right. Molly, I think that's taken us up to the time that we have. I'm really glad you came on. It was really lovely to see you again. Uh, and it made me feel like I'm back in my kind of clean web London days back, [00:46:00] back 

there actually. 

Molly Webb: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me.

Chris Adams: All right. Okay. That was it and thank you very much and have a lovely week. See you around, Molly.

Molly Webb: Brilliant. Thank you, Chris.

Chris Adams: Hey everyone, thanks for listening. Just a reminder to follow Environment Variables on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

And please, do leave a rating and review if you like what we're doing, it helps other people discover the show, and of course, we'd love to have more listeners. To find out more about the Green Software Foundation, please visit greensoftware.foundation. That's greensoftware.foundation in any browser.

Thanks again, and see you in the next episode! [00:47:00]