Internet, Computers & the Environment
It costs the average worker-from-home about $20 a year to power a laptop for 10 hours a day. Smartphone charging costs even less. Your TV, your router, your tablet — all of that technology costs pennies to power, making hours spent scrolling your phone, watching Netflix or shopping online seem like a harmless pastime.
Here’s the thing though: it’s not. When you hear terms like “virtual” and “cloud-based”, your mind doesn’t exactly jump to a 7.2 million square-foot megacenter generating 650 megawatts of power — roughly enough power for 400,000 homes. You don’t think about how worldwide internet usage makes up for about 4% of global greenhouse emissions.
The truth is that the internet has a real environmental cost.
A Handful of Watts, a Few Billion People
The music video for Luis Fonsi's “Despacito” was streamed over 7.4 billion times. In that time, the energy used by YouTube to handle that traffic exceeded the demands of multiple countries combined!
As you scoot your body off the couch to save a dropped chip, the last thing you wanna think about is the carbon footprint of being lazy. It’s not fair! You’re not fighting laws that keep solar energy from replacing fossil fuels. You keep your driving to a minimum. Why should streaming videos be this costly to the environment?
About 4 billion people use the internet every day. Each session needs at least one server — usually more — to store data, and each server has to run 24/7. These giant storage drives are crucial to any business wanting to stay reliable. Some drives are even copied to redundant/duplicate servers so that if one server goes out, 3 others can hop in and save the day. There are tens, if not hundreds of millions, of servers worldwide.
But even there, servers don’t use all that much electricity either. So what's using up all this energy? Cooling systems.
Better Planning Is a Must
DNS servers send little lightning bolts across circuits, and that means a lot of heat. In fact, servers and processors melt down within minutes if not adequately cooled, making for reliance on good airflow and circulation. Microsoft even dunked one of their server rooms in the ocean! Unlike computer parts, fans and air conditioners aren’t energy efficient. They’re as clunky as it gets.
Data centers around the world use about 1% of the world’s total energy, and that figure will continue to rise as the Internet of Things expands. While smart devices can save energy by limiting runtime, controlling them requires servers, meaning more cooling systems. Right back in that catch-22.
Fixing this problem means rethinking hardware layouts. Not all data needs redundant servers. Data centers can be consolidated to save on cooling system needs. But more than anything, we need renewable energy powering these servers.
It Always Comes Back to Renewables
If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you’ve probably noticed a theme: green energy solves about a third of the world’s problems. Solar energy is the cheapest around, but while some software companies are using that to their advantage, fossil fuels just won’t go away.
So there you go: you don’t have to feel bad about your video streaming habits once solar energy takes center stage. But our pace for reaching that goal? Despacito.