the project

Megabytes vs Megawatts is a research project that studies ongoing infrastructure developments and societal imaginaries to make data centers more environmentally sustainable. Our focus is on how ideas of sustainability are produced at the intersection between data infrastructure and energy grids, what challenges and societal frictions emerge when these two critical infrastructures interrelate, and how are these challenges imagined to be resolved.

These questions are critical to ask now, because we live in a moment when data centers support large societal and industrial transformations including AI development, climate modelling, and everyday digital services. At the same time, social science and humanities researchers have shown how data center energy consumption is at a scale that increasingly affects operations of national grids, crowding out competing industries via access to energy, raising conflicts around the fair distribution and access to energy for local communities, and bringing up questions about who loses and who benefits from data infrastructures. At the same time, energy grids that have traditionally been perceived as “stable”, are undergoing major transformations to support a future low carbon economy and industries but are not built to handle a more electrified and digitalized society.

We aim to study what conflicts and new societal visions emerge when actors such as Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and other companies that operate data centers are imagining the sustainable integration between energy-intense data center infrastructure and energy grids, in a context of intensifying electrification and datafication of society? And, how do they negotiate frictions that emerge in different arenas of their interrelation?

We use an interdisciplinary approach to these questions and integrate scholarly competences and perspectives from media infrastructure studies, anthropology and the environmental humanities, energy transition studies, science and technology studies, as well as information systems and design to develop a new perspective on the sustainability of digital technologies by focusing on the long-term governance and sustainable interrelation of digital and energy systems in-transition.

The project is funded by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation and is located at the Department of Thematic Studies — Technology and Social Change, Link√∂ping University (PI Julia Velkova).

Grant: 5 700 000 SEK
Duration: 2023 – 2025