How much Energy does the Internet consume ?

How much Energy does the Internet consume ?

The Internet is an energy hungry system. It’s a network of networks and each network consists of computers. Those computers consume power and lots of it. But is there any way to know just how much electricity the Internet uses ?

What compose the Internet ?

To answer this question, we must first define all the components that compose the Internet as a system. These include but not limited to: Data Centers, Servers, Computers, Tablets, Smartphones, Network Infrastructure Elements (Switches, Hubs, Routers, Cell-phone Towers , Cables,…). In addition to their own energy consumption to function, external systems may be needed to ensure proper work conditions like cooling systems in Data Centers. One also can argue that we need to include the energy used to create the Internet itself. That includes all the power needed to build computers and network connections and maintain the hardware.

Data Center
Data Center.

Research and Studies produced

Many studies and reports have been produced to provide an energy usage estimate of the Internet that also involves hardware production, maintenance and services.

In 2011, Barath Raghavan and Justin Ma of ICSI and University of California, Berkeley, took on the task of estimating the amount of electricity the Internet requires. Ultimately, Raghavan and Ma estimated that the Internet uses 84 to 143 gigawatts of electricity every year, which amounts to between 3.6 and 6.2 percent of all electricity worldwide.

According to another research report released in 2014 from the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, Internet’s energy usage have grown from 8% in 2012 to 10% of the world’s total electricity consumption illustrating the increasing effects of the Internet’s rapid growth.

A more recent report Total Consumer Power Consumption Forecast from Huawei researcher Anders Andrae is published in 2017. In this report, Andrae outlines an estimation of the global electricity usage that can be ascribed to Communication Technology (CT) in the coming decade. The study produces best and expected usage and production estimates of consumer devices, communication networks (5G included) and Data Centers which include annual numbers of sold devices, data traffic and electricity intensities/efficiencies. The results state that the CT industry accounted for 3-5% of the world’s power expenditure in 2015, but could rise to as much as 20% by 2025. That latter figure is certainly alarming, and doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility.

The disparity in results between the reports illustrate clearly how difficult is to produce a plausible and realistic estimate of the actual Internet’s energy usage. This is mainly due to the lack of a unified and clear methodology of measure and the fast growing internet infrastructure.

Whatever is the real energy usage estimate of the Internet and how high it may seem, it will certainly account for a fraction in energy usage and environmental impact of that of other industries like transportation for example. Moreover, reducing activities that require physical presence and moving more and more tasks and services to the Internet through teleconferencing and remote sourcing will definitely reduce the overall energy usage and positively impact our lives and our environment.


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