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The Greening Of Streaming: Akamai Achieves Renewable Energy Goals Despite Pandemic Surge

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Mike Mattera, Akamai's director of corporate sustainability, today published a fascinating blog post focused on what we here at Streaming Media call the Greening of Streaming. It details how the streaming behemoth stuck to its goal of using renewable energy for its east coast data center, despite the unprecedented surge in streaming media delivery demands during mid 2020.

"When you sit down to catch a movie or binge watch that latest series, do you consider the effect that streamed content has on the rest of the world?" writes Mattera. "We will continue to see an uptick in carbon emissions from the power required to serve online content: servers, network hardware, and the energy needed to keep it all cool."

Mattera notes that, even with the continued demand on Akamai Intelligent Edge throughout the pandemic, Akamai stuck to its commitment to renewable energy.

"Akamai was able to keep our emissions in check and our reduction goals on track," writes Mattera. "In just a few short days at the start of the pandemic, the world took to the internet at once, creating demand for content the likes of which we had never seen before. We saw what's normally a year's worth of traffic growth over the course of just one month."

In a 2018 press release, Akamai noted that a group of companies including Etsy and Swiss Re Group were attempting to bring online a wind-to-electricity energy farm in Illinois and a solar-panel-to-electricity energy farm in northern Virginia.

"The group, with technical assistance from 3Degrees, will collectively purchase 125 megawatts from a wind farm near Chicago and 165 megawatts from a solar PV project outside Fredericksburg, Virginia," the 2018 press release notes. "The solar and wind projects will be developed by sPower (an AES and AIMCo company) and Geronimo Energy, respectively."

The solar farm in Virginia is close to the "data alley" section of northern Virginia's Loudon County, which serves as a major interconnect point for domestic data traffic for U.S. states that touch the Atlantic Ocean, as well as for international IP traffic coming from Europe and the UK.

Today's blog post notes that both projects have been completed. Since I live close to the southern tip of Virginia, where we have a limited amount of sunlight—at least compared to Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, which have significant solar panel energy farms—I was curious about how Akamai and its partners accomplished their goal of 100% renewable energy in northern Virginia.

"We worked with the developer to procure enough renewable energy during the daylight hours to cover our loads in Virginia," says Mattera, noting that the amount was equivalent to four times their standard load to help offset other areas.

"The power generated during the daylight hours produces the credits we need to run our whole operation on renewable power," he says.

When it comes to streaming during the pandemic, I also asked about the Intelligent Edge, changing demands that Akamai has faced, and what impact that had on planning for continued increases in both live and VOD across the winter months.

"We did see increases in both live and VOD traffic and expect that to be the case during the winter months since people are confined to their homes still," says Mattera, noting that live traffic continues to be driven by sporting or major news events.

"The U.S. election drove a significant amount of traffic during the [ballot] count," said Mattera. "Globally most traffic increases are stemming from VOD, simply because we are continuing to see a huge transition to on-demand."

Mattera also notes that, in addition to VOD and live streaming, two other areas have contributed to traffic spikes: online gaming and software downloads.

"In November, on top of our typical holiday traffic we saw a great increase in traffic due to new COVID-19 lockdown across the world," says Mattera. "Both [March and November] platform surges were mainly related to VOD traffic and software downloads. We also expect to see a big increase right after Christmas and well into the new year as new devices (i.e., gifts) start to come online."

Part of the catalyst for the renewables push in Virginia came as part of Akamai's support of the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) which was signed into law in March 2020, just as the pandemic lockdowns began.

"VCEA puts the commonwealth and its Data Center Alley on a clear path to 100 percent zero-carbon electricity by 2045," Mattera wrote in today's blog post. He also notes that Akamai isn't stopping at just using solar energy for the northern Virginia location.

"We are looking at options to get to 24/7 continuous generation renewable using other renewable sources," he says.

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