Data centers are an even better bargain than imagined.

A study from Stanford professor Jonathan Koomey says that power consumption in data centers is growing slower than anticipated according to a widely circulated 2007 report from the EPA.

"Electricity used in global data centers likely accounted for between 1.1 percent and 1.5 percent of total electricity use, respectively. For the U.S., that number was between 1.7 percent and 2.2 percent,” the report states. The EPA said power consumption for data centers was closer to 2 percent in 2005 and was then on track to double.

It's good news, and it underscores two things we've been saying here for a while. First, the hand-wringing about data centers is overblown. Online shopping and video conferencing allow individuals and businesses alike to avoid things like unnecessary trips across town -- or across the country. Downloading books and music curbs plastic and paper consumption as well as transportation fuel. We think some of the attention on this issue has come from the fact that companies like Facebook are visible targets.

Second, it shows how IT companies are responding with ways to reduce the power bills of data center owners. AMD today launched an effort to see if it's possible to havesolar- and wind-powered data centers.

Elsewhere:

--Cree unfurled an LED bulb that generates 1,300 lumens, or 152 lumens per watt. The bulb was created for the L Prize sponsored by the Department of Energy. The results set new records for the category. It was only a few years ago that 100 lumens per watt sounded like a stretch.

--Want to spend $50 million to win $1.3 million? Google and NASA are sponsoring a green flight competition. Those that can build a craft that can fly 200 miles in less than two hours on one gallon of gas (equivalent) per passenger can win $1.3 million.

Sometimes technical contests yield spectacular results, and sometimes they seem to exist solely for fun. We got the first method for measuring longitude out of a 1714 scientific contest. But what about the modern contests? SpaceShipOne won the X Prize for commercial spaceflight a few years back. Burt Rutan, the pilot, stated that the mission could lead to space tourism by 2030. Maybe, maybe not. By contrast, a robotic vehicle sponsored by DARPA lead to a burst of innovation at Stanford. Google has now successfully lobbied to drive robotic cars in Nevada.

Electric planes present a particular challenge because, well, you can get hurt falling out of the sky. Many believe it will be the last segment of transportation that will take advantage of electric power. Still, the results could be surprising, so stay tuned. Here is more.