Choosing a Green Internet Service Provider Run By 100% Renewable Electricity

Rob Squires
Wednesday, 27th May 2015

Permaculture magazine likes to walk its talk. With offices heated by biomass, our water by the sun and electricity from PV, we asked Rob Squires to find us an economical server run by renewable energy. The switch also saved us money! Here's our findings.

Recently I was given the task of helping Permaculture magazine find a new green Internet Service Provider (ISP) to relocate their web services. ISPs are based in data centres which are buildings rammed with servers running 24/7. A data centre can be described as a giant socket, where the internet plugs into the electricity grid, and uses power to run the servers, and importantly to keep them cool.

As environmentalists we are aware of the high CO2 emissions through aviation, and take actions to reduce our impact in this area. What we don't realise however, is that emissions from telecommunications is already on a par with those from aviation, and set to double by 2020!1

With this in mind, I set out to find the ideal green ISP for our needs, and like any serious online research, it was not long before a spread sheet emerged, mapping out my personal criteria for the ideal green solution. These were: 

1. An energy efficient Virtual Private Server (VPS)

2. Competitive price

3. Good technical specs

4. Easily upgradable

5. European data centre

6. Carbon neutral, or better still renewable energy

7. Not powered by one of the 'Big 6' electricity companies 

A VPS is a machine that has been carved up programmatically to run several virtual servers on one box. Environmentally it has the edge on a 'dedicated' server, in that it uses clever strategies to optimise the use of resources, including processors, memory, and storage devices, thus requiring less power to run, and keep cool. A VPS is also more flexible than a dedicated server, and can be upgraded, or downgraded at a whim. The downside to VPS' is that they do not generally come with very high specs, and this became a major stumbling block in the hunt for the ideal solution for hosting Permaculture Mag's busy, memory hungry websites. 

I narrowed my search down to three green ISPs, and at this stage it was looking a bit like a European Cup Final, with Hetzner2 from Germany as the clear favourites, Dutch based Tilaa3 as a strong contester and still in there with a chance ... UK based Green Webhost.4 However the more I looked at the three favourites, the clearer it became that I wasn't going to find the ideal solution to my seven criteria, and that compromises would have to be made.

Green Webhost are a small outfit based in Northern England, and use some of their profits to support permaculture projects such as Hebden Bridge based Treesponsibility ... which we liked a lot. They were trying to broker a deal with us, for a dedicated server, based in Iceland in a data centre powered, excitingly, by Hydro and Geothermal electricity. Iceland has an abundance of these two renewable energy resources, and is trying to use this as a lever to break out as a world leader in the data centre market. There was something very appealing about directing permaculture ££s to our Northern European neighbours, to assist them in the quest, but unfortunately we were unable to do this, because their prices were very prohibitive.

Tilaa in Amsterdam pride themselves on their green credentials, and were offering an energy efficient VPS solution with the unusual combination of being competitively priced, whilst offering the technical specs, to be upgradable should PM ever need a more powerful server in the future. However, further research revealed that Tilaa's data centre used renewable energy provided by Eon, one of the 'Big Six' UK energy providers, and an investor in nuclear power in France, which was a major no no.

I was initially put off by the German ISP called Hetzner, because I was keen to find a VPS, and whilst their dedicated servers were exceedingly cheap, and powered by 100% Hydro, the VPS solutions on offer did not provide enough technical specs for PM's needs. With the rejection of Tilaa and Green Webhost however, we ended up purchasing one of Hetzner's dedicated servers, with an abundance of RAM, and plenty of processing power, and storage capacity for PM and its sister sites to expand in the future. 

Being German engineering and all that, we are filled with confidence in the reliability of Hetzner's service, and are happy that we have relocated to a green ISP, that is 100% renewable, and is cheaper, and faster than the PM's previous host. 

Rob has been practicing permaculture for 20 years, and currently earns a right livelihood as a freelance web developer. He has been helping PM with their web sites since 2014.





Geothermal data centre in Iceland:

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jaytree |
Mon, 01/06/2015 - 11:48
We've been providing hosting for years through our web and graphic design business. Last year we decided we wanted to support tree planting programs whilst keeping our cost the same for the customer (actually 1p cheaper per month!) So we rebranded as Tree Space Hosting: We plant 2 trees per year (at least one of which is in the UK) for each of our basic accounts. We're working on finding a decent renewable energy supplier, but we feel the tree planting is a good start and pretty significant when you start to add up the accounts. We can also provide VPS on an individual basis. Ok, so it's a plug, but I was also interested to read what other providers are doing and how we can improve our service and positive impact - feedback welcome, cheers! :)
Rebelfox |
Fri, 05/06/2015 - 00:08
I have worked in web for over a decade, as a contractor and employed. Web hosting is a minefield of slick marketing and poor service. There are no good hosts providing 100% renewable powered websites at the moment. You are therefore left with a choice - compromise on the service or compromise on the energy source. Compromising on the service can lead to poor audience experience, frustrating interaction, loss of interest etc. - in other words it makes your goal - whatever message or call to action you are trying to communicate - much more likely to fail. Ultimately it could end your mission completely. Compromising on ethics is what led the world into the mess its in already - more of the same isn't going to help. I also notice in your seven criteria no mention of people care - living wage / cooperative etc. My brief research into did not leave a positive impression. There are oodles of people out there trying to offer 100% renewable hosting, sadly most of them look like haven't a clue about the complexity of offering a robust web hosting service. There are some cooperatives - ditto. Then we have the green wash companies - they know how to sell hard on green credentials to get your coin but the reality is they are using this as a marketing tool. Some large brand web hosts are using this at the moment in public campaigns. They have no real ethics at their core though. A good proportion of hosting companies, especially smaller ones are resellers. Resellers in my experience are to be avoided. The main reason being that they do not have absolute control over the service they provide. Some may even be in a chain of resellers and not even know it. The treespacehosting have a compromise idea but this looks like green wash to me too. Their website has no information about who they are. They are hosted by PCS Networks which has a dated site and looks like a one man band. Both seem to be a little covert on who you are dealing with. The treespacehosting have a Wordpress site on a Themeforest template. This could be set up with limited experience in a couple of days. There is nothing to suggest that they have anything like the experience or resources required to provide quality, robust hosting with proper support and expertise. And nothing to suggest that there are genuinely well entrenched ethics behind them. My project is on hold - my search goes on.
Rob Squires |
Thu, 06/08/2015 - 09:40
Hi Jaytree thanks for sharing the link to Treespace Hosting .. its good to see that you're working hard to provide a green service. I must admit I didn't come across your site whilst researching, probably because I was looking for servers rather than web hosting. In terms of renewable energy I use Ecotricity for home supply, and cannot fault them. Rob
Rob Squires |
Thu, 06/08/2015 - 09:52
Hi Rebelfox. Point well made about the 7 criteria not including anything about People Care. The truth is that PM Mag is an SME and we did not have the resource to research this issue into anywhere near the depth that we could have. We had to work with the information that was readily available to us over the web, and this doesn't generally extend to how well a business looks after its staff. Like I said in the article, we were unable to find the ideal provider, based on the criteria, so whether or not Hetzner was the greenest choice, their dedicated servers were a lot cheaper than the equivalent VPS offer from Tilaa, so yes a certain amount of compromise was made in the decision. Rob