Quite a few web hosting companies claim that their servers are running on renewable energy. However, even when they actually generate solar power on-site, and do not merely “offset” fossil fuel power use by planting trees or the like, their websites are always on-line.
This means that either they have a giant battery storage system on-site (which makes their power system unsustainable), or that they are relying on grid power when there is a shortage of solar power (which means that they do not really run on 100% solar power).
In contrast, this website runs on an off-the-grid solar power system with its own energy storage, and will go off-line during longer periods of cloudy weather. Less than 100% reliability is essential for the sustainability of an off-the-grid solar system, because above a certain threshold the fossil fuel energy used for producing and replacing the batteries is higher than the fossil fuel energy saved by the solar panels.
While on the front page of the popular website HackerNews we got 500,000 requests in a few hours, yet the 15 minute average load of the server never reached above 30% of total capacity. So yes multiple popular websites built around the same principles and technologies could have fit comfortably on the same machine.
We are aware that we could make multiple servers around the world to always have the sun shining and use clever routing to always have the machine on-line. However this was besides the point for us and contra-productive to our message. If weather-based renewable energy is to ever become our main source of energy, that only works if we massively decrease our energy use and adapt our patterns to availability.
In the case of our server it is fairly simple to have a 90% uptime with a cheap and energy efficient computer and a small solar panel. However. to go above that 90% we would need to double or triple the machines used, the solar panels necessary and our storage capacity available. That is not even mentioning the resources necessary to maintain all of this in different parts of the world. If this is to work in a sustainable way, we have to change our attitude and the best way to do that in terms of web is to challenge the holy grail of ‘uptime’.
For me the articles How (Not) to Run a Modern Society on Solar and Wind Power Alone and How to Run the Economy on the Weather where very informative in this respect.
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