Technology is often touted as a solution to the world’s environmental challenges, but it is also part of the problem: industry executives are facing rising pressure to clean up their energy and resource-intensive business.
How much energy, for example, does it take to send a one-megabyte email?
Around 25 watts per hour, representing 20 grammes of carbon dioxide emissions, according to France’s CNRS research centre.
It might not seem like much, but the Radicati research group expects 293 billion emails will be sent every single day this year and the power needs to be generated — mostly from fossil fuels.
Apps can quickly drain and shorten the life of phone batteries, with Snapchat a particularly “heavy” messaging service because it automatically turns on the camera.
Then there are the server farms crunching mammoth amounts of data worldwide, which require huge amounts of electricity both to run and to power airconditioning which keeps the equipment from getting too hot.
“Under the current global energy mix, the share of greenhouse gas emissions from information and communication technologies will rise from 2.5% in 2013 to 4% in 2020,” the French think-tank Shift Project said in a recent report.
That makes the sector more carbon-intensive than civil aviation (a 2% share of emissions in 2018) and on track to reach automobiles (8%), it said.
The surge in video and streaming services poses a particular challenge: already in 2017 Greenpeace estimated that the viral K-pop sensation Gangnam Style, viewed more than 2.7 billion times, had consumed a year’s worth of production from a small nuclear power plant.
Video streaming now accounts for nearly 60% of all “downstream” internet traffic from servers to individual devices, with Netflix alone generating 15%, according to an October report from US network analysis and services group Sandvine.
Music services also take a toll. In 2000, researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Oslo found that greenhouse gas emissions from the US music industry alone stood at 157 million kg in 2000.