Booming computer firms are running out of power : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Tuesday 11 July 2000

Booming computer firms are running out of power By Simon Davis in Los Angeles

COMPANIES in Silicon Valley, California, are being forced to build private power stations amid growing evidence that there is not enough electricity in America's grid to drive the booming high tech industry. Demand for electricity across the United States has grown by 35 per cent in 10 years as people have taken to using computers. More than 10 per cent of the country's total power is now used to drive computers and the many other hand-held electronic gizmos that are becoming popular. The growth of the internet and e-commerce has put even greater strain on the power supply.

Karl Stahlkopf of the Power Research Institute said: "You may think electronic gadgets can't use much electricity. In fact, when you look at the servers and the computers that back up the wireless Palm Pilot for example, you'll find it has the electrical load equivalent of a refrigerator."

The unremitting desire for electricity is most keenly felt in and around Silicon Valley, where an average microchip processing plant uses enough power to run 50,000 homes. Fearing that the public utility companies will not act fast enough to generate more electricity, Oracle, one of the largest software manufacturers, has spent millions of pounds building its own power station.

Many others, including Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, are submitting proposals to do the same. Mr Stahlkopf said: "If they can't get reliable power from the utility, then the only solution is to build a plant and provide it themselves." Justin Bradley, a spokesman for Oracle, said: "It's very critical to us to have reliable power."

Demand for electricity so outstrips supply that power cuts in Silicon Valley are increasingly frequent. A loss of power, even for a short time, can cost individual businesses $1 million (#650,000) an hour and the industry #65 million a day. Computers require an uninterrupted supply to function properly. If this is stemmed even for one-sixtieth of a second - not enough to make ordinary lights flicker - a computer system can crash.

Power disturbances are capable of causing more than 17,000 different computer problems, from frozen cursors to a serious crash. The power supply in Silicon Valley was recently drained to a point where dozens of companies lost millions of dollars. The event was the most serious indicator so far that America's electricity supply cannot cope with the power needed to run the digital economy.

The power industry is building new plants, but they cannot be completed fast enough and are hugely expensive. There are now plans for a temporary floating power plant on a barge to serve Silicon Valley this summer, when even more power is needed to fuel the vast air-conditioning systems.

-- Martin Thompson (, July 10, 2000


This is a trend that is inevitable.

But, unfortunately, with wholesale power rates jumping at the unconscionable rate of 20 to 40 times just a few weeks ago, I'm afraid it's a matter of too little--too late.

-- JackW (, July 11, 2000.

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