The Internet is Becoming More Energy Efficient, But Total Energy Use is Climbing

Internet Energy Efficiency
At first glance, someone looking at the numbers for the energy consumption of the Internet might say: "The Internet was using 2x more power in 2006 than in 2000! That's terrible!" But the whole picture looks more like: "Between 2000 and 2006, Internet traffic increased by 3.2 million times yet energy consumption only doubled!"

Read on for more details.Earth2Tech says:

newer networking technologies are generally more efficient. Older technologies like dialup and traditional wireline connections use 3.56 kWh per GB. Newer technologies including fiber and power lines use .77 kWh/GB, while cable uses .72 kWh/GB and DSL sips a low .17 kWh/GB. These figures don’t include the power consumption of the end-device like a laptop or a cell phone. Also remember the measurement is energy per gigabyte of data, and newer networks also transmit significantly more data than older networks.

Doing More With Less
But this isn't very surprising, really. With "Moore's Law" making CPUs exponentially faster and new tools like software virtualization allowing one server to replace many, it was expected that a doubling of energy consumption would result in many times more data being transfered. One interesting question would be: Does the value that you get from data scale with the amount of data? It's probably not linear, for sure, but there's still value to be had in going from mostly text and static pictures to more audio and video.

If only more things could be like that. Can you imagine a car that you drive 3.2 million more miles this year than 6 years ago, yet you only use twice as much gas? It would still be a big improvement if the Internet (and the power grid in general) had cleaner sources of energy, but considering all the energy saved because of the net (how many people learned about green online and change their lives? how many people voted for greener politicians because of online movements?), the bottom line is probably positive from an environmental point of view, not to mention all the other benefits of worldwide communications.

I find it hard to argue that the world would be a better place without the Internet, and so I think it's near the bottom of the list of things that should be axed for environmental reasons, but maybe I'm biased.

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