Posts Green IT Miniseries Part 1 - Energy consumption

Green IT Miniseries Part 1 - Energy consumption

You are right know probably looking on a screen, may it be your smartphone’s screen or the one from your labtop. You may even stream a nice song while reading this lines. You probably have used the internet today to stream some nice videos, learn about something new, socialized online or just chilled and played a nice game. But have you ever thought about the backbone of all this. About all the servers or the whole overscaled network that is needed to provide you with all these things we take for granted every day. Have you ever thought about the implications of this, for example the electricity that is needed to power all of this. And its not just you who is using this global, interconnected, giant infrastructure but billions of users and devices.

So, taking into account the global communication networks, data centers and personal computers you could approximate the needed electricity consumption. Turns out for the year 2012 this was calculated to be about 930 TWh [EINS Consortium et al. 2013]. This correspondence to 4.7% of the total worldwide electricity consumption in 2012 [EINS Consortium et al. 2013]. This translates to about 530 Mt of CO2, which corresponds to 1.7% of the worldwide total amount of greenhouse gases in 2012 [Gelenbe et al.].

However, this calculation did not include TVs, smart phones, audio devices, manufacturing and dispose of equipment [EINS Consortium et al. 2013]. If you add the electricity consumption for manufacturing, smartphones and TVs the total electricity consumption almost doubles to about 1,815 TWh per year [Corcoran et al.]. This then correspondence to 9,17% of the worldwide electricity consumption and 3.3% of the worldwide greenhouse emissions in 2012.

Before 2012 growing rate of 6.6% per year in the collective electricity consumption of communication networks, data centers and personal computers has been seen [EINS Consortium et al. 2013]. Therefore, the today’s electricity consumption and CO2 emissions are probably significantly underestimated by above numbers. Additionally, the current deep learning and IoT hype are not reflected in this numbers as well.

We all use the internet every day. For example me, most of the time, I sit in front of a screen. And almost any of the things I do require a working internet connection. Today we all use the possibilities of the world wide web to socialize, learn, entertainment purpose, work and heavily rely on it. However, what we often don’t see or don’t think of are the causalities. The increased usage of information and communication technologies does not come at zero costs. The needed electricity to power and manufacture all these servers, devices and things has grown enormously. But also dependencies on rare materials and violations of human rights and environmental destruction to gather the needed materials. Facing a climate crisis right know we need to rethink, grow awareness and change it, fast. Therefore, I want to dedicate a mini series on this topic.


[Corcoran et al.] Corcoran, P. & Andrae, A. Emerging Trends in Electricity Consumption for Consumer ICT. 57.

[EINS Consortium et al. 2013] EINS Consortium and others. Overview of ICT energy consumption (D8. 1). (2013).

[Gelenbe et al.] Gelenbe, E. & Caseau, Y. The impact of information technology on energy consumption and carbon emissions. Ubiquity 2015, 1–15 (2015).

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