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Key Objective: 3.4 Purchase offsets for Supercomputers

The 2015 iCAP, chapter 3, objective 4, is "Offset all emissions from the National Petascale Computing Facility (and other successor facilities) by the conclusion of the current period of National Science Foundation support."

Associated Metric

Annual electrical consumption for Petascale Facility


The National Petascale Computing Facility (NPCF) is a supercomputing facility funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that serves users across the country.  It is important to our research mission to continue to be at the forefront of research in supercomputing-intensive fields, including the modeling of climate change.  As of FY14, NPCF consumes ~87,000 MWh/year of electricity, which represents roughly 18% of the campus electrical load.  Because the NSF grant supporting NPCF is only five years in duration, and because the future load of this facility is uncertain, it is not practical for the campus to install electrical generation facilities (renewable or otherwise) to support the load.  Given the relatively short timeframe, it is also not possible to enter into long-term Power Purchase Agreements to supply NPCF with renewable electricity.

The best option to eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions from NPCF and future supercomputing facilities is therefore to purchase carbon offsets (described in detail in Chapter 8) for the entirety of those emissions.  As described above, it is not clear that the short-term purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates actually leads to a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.  Ideally, the cost of purchasing offsets could be included in future proposals to NSF or other agencies to support supercomputers; alternately, the campus could assume those costs itself as part of its commitment to host such facilities.