October 27th, 2011 by Chris Keenan
Ever wonder just how much energy the Internet uses? According to a report by CNN, more power is pumped into the maintenance of the Internet than the auto industry. That means the Internet uses more electricity than the entire auto industry’s production of cars and trucks combined.
So, what does that prove exactly? Well, let’s put it this way: If the Internet were a country, it would rank fifth in the world for amount of energy consumption and carbon dioxide emission. According to Greenpeace, the Internet consumes more power than Russia. That’s an awful lot of energy when you stop and think about it, and it’s not all coming from renewable sources.
A large percentage of the data centers that house computer servers rely on non-renewable energy sources to power their cloud computing. In fact, according to Greenpeace, at least 10 major tech companies (which include Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter) depend on nuclear and coal-powered energy rather than renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind. Greenpeace estimates that, when functioning at full capacity, Google’s eight server farms could use up to 476 megawatts of electricity, enough energy to power all of San Diego.
However, Google has been taking measures to eliminate its carbon footprint by utilizing renewable energy sources such as wind. In fact, Google has invested in a wind farm superhighway (transmission network) involving an undersea cable located off the East Coast of the United States. The wind power potential there could produce 6,000 megawatts of energy, enough electricity to power approximately two million homes. The search giant has invested a ton in several other clean energy projects as well (here’s a top 7 list). Greenpeace has applauded Google for their attempts at utilizing renewable energy sources in which to run their servers from.
Facebook has at least one data center that is 40 percent more efficient than any of their other centers. Yahoo reportedly only uses 18.3 percent coal-based power with the majority of its data centers, efficiently using solar and hydro energy.
Although the Internet and other forms of information technology account for two percent of the earth’s energy use, it’s not all bad. Technology has definitely had some benefits when it comes to reducing energy consumption, whether it is from saving fuel and time by using Google Maps or MapQuest or having an online conference rather than taking a flight for business purposes.
However, that two percent that is being used is still a lot of dirty energy. Here’s one way of putting it into perspective: each month, power used for Google searches generates 260,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide, enough to run a freezer for the next 5,400 years. Kind of makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?
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