Broad Oak: your emotional support animal

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Energy use and the internet

Image by Sackerson: http://theylaughedatnoah.blogspot.co.uk/

"Worldwide... digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants", says the New York Times.

Wikipedia reckons global electricity consumption in 2008 was 20,279,640 billion watts, so internet servers use around 1.3% of the total (presumably more as more of the world gets connected).

But we have to add to that the power usage by machines that access the data. According to Time Magazine, a report in July ("The Cloud begins with Coal" - pdf) by Mark Mills of the Digital Power Group estimates the total IT system to be around 10% of world electricity production.

The Time writer paraphrases him: "It’s the same amount of electricity that was used to light the entire planet in 1985. We already use 50% more energy to move bytes than we do to move planes in global aviation."

The first Sinclair home computer offered 1 kilobyte (1,024 bytes) and the next (the Spectrum, which I bought) boasted 64 kilobytes. New word (for me): "zettabyte" (used in slide 3 in Mills' presentation). 1 zettabyte = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. Here is Mill's graph showing estimated current (4 - 5 ZB) and forecast data usage: 

(Mills, from slide 5)

Mills points out that coal is the world's most important energy source, and IT is using more and more. Perhaps when the mines are empty, we need no longer worry about the NSA/GCHQ's cybersnooping.

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