Decarbonizing the Internet Computer: Urgent Sustainability Initiatives

Introduction

The digital frontier is rapidly expanding, with the Internet Computer (IC) pioneering innovations to redefine the essence of the internet. However, these rapid advancements bring its environmental footprint into sharp focus, emphasizing the critical need for sustainability in our digital age.

As Marc Johnson, Founder of Carbon Twelve, a committed Node Provider for the IC, and Co-founder and CEO of Nova Energy, I bring a unique perspective to this challenge. My passion for digital sustainability stems from my time building Filecoin Green at Protocol Labs, where I contributed to the development of sustainable solutions for the Filecoin ecosystem.

With Nova Energy, we aim to extend these principles across the web3 space, AI models, and data center operations, catalyzing a shift towards a more sustainable digital landscape through our Energy Validation Process (EVP) and Green Scores.

This post seeks to galvanize the IC network and community towards embracing and leading sustainability efforts, ensuring the digital advancements we pursue today do not compromise our planet’s health tomorrow.

The Challenge and the Imperative for Swift Action

The rapid growth of the Internet Computer, while a testament to its revolutionary potential, also amplifies its environmental impact. Present estimations suggest the network’s energy consumption is significant, with the operation of its node machines contributing to notable greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While the network’s energy use and environmental impact is minimal compared to other large web3 networks, this situation highlights an urgent need for the IC community to adopt sustainable measures that align with global efforts to combat climate change.

Urgent Sustainability Measures

Internet Computer Network’s Environmental Footprint:

With an estimated power consumption of 374.874 kW from approximately 1374 total node machines, of which 559 are actively contributing to the network in subnets. The average energy use for all node machines is around 0.2728 kW, and approximately 0.671 kW if only factoring in subnet node machines.

Given that the IC runs 24x7x364, using an estimate of 8760 hours per year, the estimated power consumption of 374.874 kW translates into 3283896.24 kWh of energy consumption.

Utilizing the World average carbon intensity of electricity generation (grams of CO₂ equivalents per kilowatt-hour) of 438 gCO₂, the total emissions of the Internet Computer network are estimated to be 1438 tonnes of ​​CO₂e. This estimated emissions profile is roughly equivalent to 1,584,786 pounds of coal burned, or 5,918,816 kilometers driven by an average gasoline-powered passenger vehicle. While these figures can vary slightly depending on the methodology employed, these figures underscore the immediate need for action to mitigate the environmental impact of the IC.

Introducing Comprehensive Environmental Audits:

Drawing from our extensive experience with Filecoin Green and Nova Energy, we have developed our Energy Validation Process (EVP) and Green Scores methodology, that has been used to validate over 250 Filecoin minerIDs and an innovative AI model, ClimateGPT.

These efforts have demonstrated the potential for significant energy efficiency improvements within web3 networks, AI models, and data center operations. By offering a granular view of energy and water usage, our approach enables entities to identify and implement targeted sustainability measures that were previously unrecognized.

Our ideas for the Internet Computer network includes:

  • Conducting regular environmental assessments of Node Provider’s energy use and GHG emissions to enhance the transparency of the network’s environmental performance. These detailed assessments will offer Node Providers, and the entire IC network, a clear view of its holistic ecological footprint.

  • Implementing energy efficiency measures and encouraging the adoption of renewable energy sources to significantly curtail the network’s carbon footprint. Our work with Filecoin Storage Providers, where monitoring at a granular level led to considerable energy savings, serves as a blueprint for this step.

  • Instituting regular environmental reporting to bolster accountability and demonstrate progress toward sustainability goals. The Nova Energy reporting portal offers a solution to streamline the data collection, analysis, and verification of key operations metrics, thereby providing insights on environmental performance, which could serve as a model for what the IC network’s environmental reporting might encompass.

Incentive Programs for Enhanced Sustainability:

Leveraging the learnings from our initiatives, we propose the following incentive programs tailored to the IC network, designed to catalyze sustainability efforts:

  • Awarding enhanced ICP token allocations to Node Providers that demonstrate notable emission reductions and/or high environmental performance indicators. While the specific KPIs or metrics of success will need to be defined and agreed upon by the IC community, this program possesses the potential to directly motivate reductions in GHG emissions.

  • Issuing environmental credentials or embedding Green Scores into the trusted node metrics to distinguish Node Providers who are prioritizing sustainability. This differentiation not only enhances their reputation but also provides a tangible marker of their environmental stewardship.

  • Establishing a ‘Renewable’ subnet to offer a rewards multiple for Node Providers committed to running on 100% verified renewable energy. This innovative approach ensures that sustainability efforts are directly tied to economic benefits.

  • Facilitating access to green financing for energy-efficient hardware upgrades through preferential loan programs for Node Providers to upgrade their Node machines on the basis of energy efficiency gains.

The integration of comprehensive environmental audits alongside these incentive programs represents a holistic approach to enhancing the sustainability of the IC network. By adopting these measures, the IC can lead by example in the blockchain space, demonstrating that technological innovation and environmental responsibility can go hand in hand.

Expected Outcomes, Collaborative Engagement, and Next Steps

The ideas presented here are designed not only to substantially reduce the IC network’s environmental impact but also to position it as a beacon of sustainability within the broader web3 community. By taking this step, the IC can set a precedent, motivating widespread industry shifts towards more eco-friendly blockchain operations.

As part of our commitment to this goal, Nova Energy is currently developing an Energy Validation Process (EVP) tailored for the IC. We plan to share this with the community shortly, seeking your insights and feedback. As a sneak-peek, I’ve attached a screenshot of the Nova Energy Reporting Portal below for your reference.

This collaborative approach is vital as we refine the EVP, with the ambition of eventually proposing a motion for all node providers to undergo this process on a regular basis. Such an initiative will underscore our collective commitment to sustainability and set a new standard for environmental responsibility in the web3 space.

Next Steps and Call-to-Action:

What I’ve outlined above are only initial ideas. We extend a heartfelt invitation to the IC community to engage in this vital discussion. Your participation and feedback are crucial as we move forward. Specifically, we seek input on the following:

@NodeProviders, among the ideas of incentive options detailed earlier, which resonates most with you as a motivator for adopting sustainable practices in your operations? Your insights will guide us in tailoring these incentives to effectively encourage the transition to greener operations.

@DfinityFoundation, we query whether adjustments to the current (or future) remuneration model could incorporate the environmental performance of Node Providers. Such a modification could serve as a powerful incentive for adopting sustainability measures.

This is a pivotal moment for the Internet Computer and the broader web3 community. By joining forces, we can not only innovate but also lead the way in demonstrating that cutting-edge technology and environmental stewardship can coexist harmoniously.

Your Action Needed:

We urge Node Providers to share your thoughts on the proposed incentives and any other measures that would motivate you towards sustainability.

We call on the Dfinity Foundation to consider how environmental performance metrics can be integrated into remuneration models to ensure that strong environmental performance is weaved into the fabric of the IC.

Let’s open a dialogue on these topics. Your participation is crucial as we work together to mold the Internet Computer into a model of digital sustainability. Together, we can ensure the IC not only revolutionizes the digital world but also champions a sustainable future for all.

Please join in this critical mission by sharing your thoughts, suggestions, and readiness to engage in making the Internet Computer a leader in sustainability.

Acknowledgments

My deepest appreciations go out to @ais, @rickycoli, @louisevelayo, and @YanayPop for your guidance and insightful feedback on the initial concepts presented here.

Screenshot of Nova Reporting Portal:

3 Likes

Hi Marc, thank your for this extremely valuable contribution. We have recently been admitted as a node provider, hoping to go live as soon as the topology allows it again.

Your observation is quite clear: “The current IC network consumes 3.28 million kWh per year, or 1438 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 5.9million km driven”

Also, given that (source: Dashboard)

  • current (live) SNS projects: 19
  • annual cycles burned in ICP equivalent: 60k ICP (demand)
  • annual ICP minted (to reward staking and node providers): 25m ICP (supply)

Therefore :
1/ current ICP supply = 416 x demand
2/ Average 75 tonnes of CO2 emitted per SNS project
3/ 24kg of CO2 per ICP burned
(of course, these are just averages, with all pros and cons)

For the node network this reconfirms
1/ why current topology does not allow new nodes
2/ energy efficiency (minimum CO2 per IC transaction, or per KwH consumed) as key admission criterion for admission of new nodes

In other words. The current node network challenge is having surplus nodes consuming kwh (and emitting CO2) that is unsufficiently used. That is a supply-demand issue to resolve, which we will.

Your analysis shows a more strategic point. Given that we know that demand will start spiralling and hence network will need to rapidly expand (this typically comes in J-curve form), we must prepare now to set it up in an energy efficient way.

Thank your for kicking this off. I hope this will be embraced by the node providers and community at large.

1 Like

Hi @marcjohnson, thanks for this post!

I think the ideas here are great and the discussions surrounding them should continue, especially at the upcoming [NP ICP Lab] !! :rocket: (Notion – The all-in-one workspace for your notes, tasks, wikis, and databases.)

Just a couple of thoughts from my end:

I had a quick look at some of the analytics possible with the trustworthy node metrics. At least from what I saw on the google collab, it wasn’t immediately clear what metrics could constitute the “green score”. Most of what is on there is more about the “useful work” the node is doing. But again I need to do some deeper digging on it.

@sat, as you posted originally about the release of the trustworthy node metrics on the forum, I’m curious to get your thoughts! Would trustworthy node metrics be the right source of data to start constructing green scores? If so, which metrics would they be? If not, which metrics would be suitable to create green scores for all NPs?

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I agree with this approach! I think if the KPIs are defined such that they are quite inclusive, then many more NPs can reap the benefits and participate in the greening of the IC nodes. In your experience @marcjohnson , what are some activities that NPs can do to reduce emissions that can be done almost globally?

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A subnet where all nodes are powered by renewables would be awesome!

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I wonder if the calculations are after regional renewable energy capacity? Where I live (Portugal), renewables account for 60%+, which is increasing each year, many other European countries are higher. As many countries are moving towards net zero, will this be an issue?

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Hey @jakepeg, thanks for bringing up such an important topic! You’re right that countries like Portugal are making significant strides towards renewable energy, which is a crucial step for global sustainability.

However, the transition is indeed uneven across the globe. The IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2023 report underscores the complexity of this transition, noting that while renewable energy sources like solar PV are rapidly growing, the global energy landscape is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. This reliance poses challenges to achieving global decarbonization goals promptly. For instance, check out this map that highlights the share of electricity production from renewables around the world.

You can also explore this data for yourself here: Share of electricity production from renewables - Our World in Data.

Furthermore, the above map only takes into account Electricity Production, not all of Primary Energy, which includes energy that end users need, in the form of electricity, transport and heating, plus the inefficiencies and energy that is lost when raw resources are transformed into a usable form. The map below showcases the share of primary energy consumption from renewables around the world.

You can also explore this data for yourself here: Share of primary energy consumption from renewable sources - Our World in Data

From these maps, it’s clear we still have a very long way to go to decarbonize the global energy system, and the complexity means that while advancements in one region can be promising, achieving comprehensive global decarbonization/sustainability targets requires collective progress across all countries/regions.

Your focus on renewable energy’s growing role highlights the importance of advancing these efforts worldwide, to not only reduce the carbon footprint of digital infrastructure like the Internet Computer but also to support broader goals of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Also, this emphasis on renewable energy aligns with the increasing need for sustainable digital infrastructure that can support our planet’s health and future.

I hope this all makes sense and thanks again for bringing up some an important aspect of this work!

BTW, I live in Lisbon - we should grab coffee sometime if you’re around!

Agreed! It would be great too implement a framework that is inclusive of all NPs so they can receive larger economic awards on the basis of the environmental performance.

The most direct way an NP can reduce their emissions is by connecting their operations to renewable energy. This can be orchestrated through and agreement with your datacenter, or utility provider, but can also be conducted via market instruments called Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), which represent the property rights to the attributes of renewable electricity generation: https://www.epa.gov/green-power-markets/renewable-energy-certificates-recs#one

I think this a great initiative overall, but I would also like to point out that this may be easier to achieve for Node Providers operating in Europe/US than if you are in other countries where necessary data may be lacking, data centers may be much less likely to be able to provide optionality on utility providers, they may lack the internal capacity to provide the required data and so forth. I think setting certain incentives for anyone who onboards a new node in the future would be a great initiative, while also taking into account regional differences.

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Thank you for highlighting the regional differences, @tina23! This is a very important topic and it underscores the need for a flexible, region-specific approach in our sustainability strategies.

To address and effectively manage regional differences/disparities, I suggest adopting/employing a combination of methodologies in the emissions calculations:

  • Standard Scope 2 emissions accounting: This methodology, accepted by the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard, calculates the average emissions rate by dividing total emissions by total generation.While this method provides a useful baseline for annual inventory of total CO2, it is primarily used for location-based and market-based emissions accounting.

  • Marginal Emissions Analysis: This methodology (oftentimes called Consequential/Impact accounting) focuses on the real CO2 impact caused by using electricity at a certain time. It answers the question: if the grid demand/load increases or decreases at a particular time, what will be the emissions rate of the power plant that responds? This method is particularly helpful for making decisions about where and when to use or generate electricity, and is accepted by the GHG Protocol Project Protocol to measure the CO2 reduction caused by a project.

The combination of these methodologies allows us to prioritize actions based on the actual induced emissions from electricity consumption and the avoided emissions benefits of renewable energy generation using marginal emissions rates.

By understanding and employing marginal emissions rates, we can effectively target our efforts where they can have the greatest impact on reducing emissions, accounting for the specific conditions of each grid. This approach not only enhances the efficacy of our sustainability measures but also ensures that we are truly contributing to a decrease in global greenhouse emissions, regardless of regional differences.

I appreciate your insights and invite further discussion on how we can adapt these strategies to meet regional needs effectively. What specific challenges do you see in your area, and how can we address them together?

Looking forward to your thoughts!

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this is great. Not only energy.

But the entire toxic business supply chain, must change.

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Hey all, wanted to highlight that @orlhut posted a great update about his work on the IC Footprint here: IC Footprint: Energy Management & Climate Tech are a $40bn Opportunity for ICP

Go check it out!

Regarding trustworthy metrics for the energy usage, I think that would be hard, since only the individual node can know how much energy it actually used. So a particular node could lie.
We could add all unverified information from all nodes into the trustworthy metrics, but at that point it wouldn’t really be trustworthy since there is no way to check if a node is reporting the right information.
Otherwise, I strongly support the initiative. :blush:

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CO2 is good for plants