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The Metaverse and Sustainability

By Josue Ramirez - International Data Center Authority (IDCA)
Regional Director, Latin America


By Josue Ramirez | Regional Director LATAM - Fri, 02/03/2023 - 09:00

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Recently, we have heard a lot about the metaverse. For those who are not very familiar with this term, it is essentially a virtual world that we can access thanks to the technological progress of recent decades. This concept was first used in 1992 by the American novelist Neal Stephenson. What he proposed was the  convergence of the  real world and the digital world. 

To get to the current state of the metaverse, we have gone through an evolution during the last 20 years. At first, we mainly  saw these advances in video games, where we went from 2D graphics to 3D graphics; then, devices like augmented reality glasses became available, which allowed us to immerse ourselves in a completely virtual environment. 

The idea of the metaverse was conceived through the video game Second Life, released in 2003. This was the origin of the use of avatars, which is how people represent themselves in the metaverse. Next came a myriad of ideas to use the metaverse, from video games to flight simulators, guided tours, virtual stores, training, education, and more. 

Some of these new functionalities of the metaverse can help to avoid some risks in real life, such as flight simulations for pilots, training in high-risk professions, and surgical practices. Several institutions have begun to lay the foundations for  this virtual universe, including Meta, Microsoft, Apple and Samsung as well as some video game companies and artificial intelligence and financial companies. 

Derived from the creation of the metaverse, other tools have emerged, such as NFTs (non-fungible tokens), which are assets that cannot be modified. Once created, it is not possible to make changes to the image, for example,  a work of art.  These assets can be traded and change ownership and they have a control system through blockchain that allows users to know the NFT’s origin and the changes of ownership. These NFTs have become very important, since through them it is possible to use virtual commerce, where a person can have virtual properties or objects that also  possess an economic value in the real world. 

For the metaverse to be possible, there must be a very robust and complex technological infrastructure. For an avatar, landscapes, simulations or other objects to achieve great graphic detail with high resolution requires a high level of processing and storage in real life. All this processing is carried out in data centers, where it is not only necessary to install hundreds or thousands of servers so that these virtual platforms can exist, but also other infrastructure, such as communications equipment, security, storage, high-speed connectivity with physical and wireless connectivity, and high-speed, low-latency transmitting. This equipment requires a large consumption of resources, including electricity. 

Currently, data centers consume 2% of the total energy consumed globally, and this percentage is projected to increase in the coming years, since there is exponential growth in many regions of the world , including Latin America, where new data centers are projected and are being built, mainly hyperscale. In Mexico alone, projections see new data centers of more than 600MW of consumption by 2025. To give you an idea of the size of these projects, this is more than double the energy consumption used by existing data centers in Mexico. 

How is the metaverse related to sustainability? As I mentioned earlier, these projects involve the large consumption of electricity and strategies need to be in place so that the energy used in data centers comes from renewable energy sources with  low carbon emissions.

On one hand, to reduce carbon emissions, the implementation of these projects need to contemplate energy efficiency strategies, use technology that helps reduce energy consumption, implement low-consumption IT systems and create a sustainable waste management strategy that ensures that the equipment that is replaced has an adequate recycling system to reduce the polluting effects they cause. On the other hand, the source of the energy generation is also very important.  It should come from renewable or natural sources to avoid the consumption of energy from fossil fuels that increase carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

Currently, the global objective is to realize a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050  in  order  to maintain  the increase in the planet's temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. What does this mean? In 2010, an initiative for a sustainable future emerged and the UN has asked nations, through the Paris Agreement, to join this plan to try to reduce global warming and its consequences.   

I would like to make a couple of clarifications in the terms carbon neutral and net zero, which have been heavily used in recent years but which can generate a bit of confusion. While both seek an improvement in environmental sustainability, carbon neutral refers to  how we produce and consume fossil fuel-based energy and seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and their impact on the environment.

Net zero, on the other hand, not only includes carbon dioxide, but other greenhouse gases, such as methane and sulfur dioxide. It seeks to have a balance between the amount of greenhouse gases we put in the atmosphere and the amount we take out.

However, it is necessary that all these metaverse and complex hyperscale projects that are being installed worldwide contemplate in their designs, implementation and operation strategies that can meet these sustainability commitments so that they become part of  the search for carbon neutrality and net zero.

Photo by:   Josue Ramirez

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