Despite the rapid growth of data flows, the energy consumption of the Internet has not increased recently. The reason for this is the strong increases in efficiency.
The current shortage of microchips won’t change the fact that many electronic devices will be on the table again this year. Today, nearly five billion people use the Internet via smartphones, laptops and co., and the number is growing. Other devices connected to the network (Internet of Things) are also spreading rapidly – according to estimates, they will exceed the world’s population for the first time this year. Data traffic has increased by a factor of 15 since 2010, driven by video streaming, conferencing, online gaming, and social media.
This requires a lot of energy. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), data centers through which Internet traffic is processed consume 200-250 terawatt-hours (terawatt-hours; billion kilowatt-hours) of electricity annually; This corresponds to about one percent of global electricity demand. At 260 to 340 TWh, data transmission has the most power requirement. This goes hand in hand with rising carbon dioxide2emissions. Example: A long email causes as many greenhouse gases as driving a car 100m (which is still at least ten times more climate friendly than a letter).
In view of the rapid growth of the Internet, one would in fact expect that electricity consumption will also increase sharply. But this is not the case: as the International Energy Agency stated in its recently published report “Energy Efficiency 2021”, the energy consumption of the Internet has decreased slightly recently. The reason for this is an increase in efficiency in data centers and data networks from 10 to 30 percent annually. as well as z. For example, today’s (4G) cellular networks are five times more energy efficient as 3G networks and 50 times more efficient than 2G.
This “disconnected” energy consumption from data traffic, experts of the International Energy Agency noted. However, at the same time, they warn that it does not have to remain that way. As the data flows keep growing – they are currently doubling every three years. The main drivers are cloud computing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and blockchain (which alone requires 100 TWh of electricity).
It is doubtful whether the increased efficiency of infrastructure can keep pace with this development. The dilemma is clearly evident in the next generation of mobile communications, 5G: this is expected to be 10 to 20 times more economical with power – but the higher speed and additional options will also increase the amount of data transmitted.
The author heads the research department at “The Press” and is a specialist in science communication at AIT.
(“Die Presse,” print edition, December 19, 2021)
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