Video Watching Doubles, Energy Costs Soar

Streaming video is easy for you, but it's not as easy on the environment. (Photo: pixinoo/Shutterstock)

A new report from the Pew Research Center enumerates the not too surprising fact that adults are watching more and more video online. Approximately 2/3 of adults 30-49 (who use the internet) are now watching video online, doubling from 2006.

89 percent of young adults (18-29) watch online video. 19 percent of total Internet users watch video daily and about 1/3 of the population has seen a television show online via sites like Hulu.

What are the carbon dioxide implications of all this video watching?

As our expectations for lightening speed buffering and high-def resolution (both Youtube and Vimeo offer hi-def options), more and more bandwidth is requiring more and more servers and more and more energy.

This exponential growth of energy consumption in the IT sector, estimated at 10% anually, is causing some energy pundits like Subodh Patat, VP of Technology at Sun Microsystems, to get worried:

In an energy-constrained world, we cannot continue to grow the footprint of the internet ... we need to reign in the energy consumption. We need more data centres, we need more servers. Each server burns more watts than the previous generation and each watt costs more. If you compound all these trends you have the perfect storm.

Internet companies like Youtube and its parent Google (now the largest video distributor in the world) keep their true energy costs top secret, mostly for fear of shareholder alarmism, so exact numbers are not available. But one thing is clear — the Internet represents the fastest growing sector for energy demand. Some experts say the Internet now represents 1.5 percent of total energy consumption in the United States and growing so fast that it may soon eclipse other industries like the airline industry.

Fortunately many companies like IBM and HP are developing technologies to make server farms much more efficient. These "smart farms" power on and and off in tandem, reducing overall loads. Hopefully these and other efforts in the green I.T. sector will help us keep up with our hunger for online video.