APPROXIMATELY 4.6 billion people use the Internet every day.
In fact, 350,000 tweets were sent in the last minute.
We tend to think of the Internet as something fleeting – thanks in part to terms like ‘web’ and ‘cloud’ – but the servers that host all of this data produce huge amounts of emissions, leaving a footprint behind. giant carbon.
Today, there are approximately 30 billion devices connected to the Internet in the world. This includes personal computers, smartphones, televisions and tablets, as well as a myriad of devices that use the Internet in more subtle ways, such as smart cars, smart homes, and smart watches, known as the Internet of Things.
These internet-connected technologies are already playing a key role in the transition to a cleaner energy future.
For example, smart meters deployed in many countries help to monitor and therefore reduce household energy consumption.
But as we rely on the Internet to process, use and store more and more data, the power it uses increases. For the sake of our planet, we need to make the web more sustainable.
Research estimates that by 2025, the information technology (IT) industry could use 20% of all electricity produced and emit up to 5.5% of the world’s carbon emissions.
This is more than the total emissions of most countries – with the exception of China, India and the United States.
An increasing share of IT energy consumption comes from data centers. These are buildings used to store data and computer hardware, which almost always plug directly into the local power grid. In most countries, this means that they mainly use non-renewable sources of electricity.
About 50% of data centers are now “hyperscale”, meaning that they contain more than 5,000 servers and are typically over 1,000 m².
These are typically used by the major players in the data industry, such as Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, or Amazon Web Services (AWS), which alone host 5.8% of all sites on the internet.
A number of these data centers have tried to reduce their environmental impact and in doing so lower their energy bills.
Google has announced its goal of achieving 24/7 renewable-powered data centers by 2030, and its first such data center became operational last year near Las Vegas.
To operate such centers solely from renewable energies, it is vital to locate them in regions where wind, solar, geothermal or hydroelectric energy is abundant.
The last decade has seen another trend emerge: web hosting powered by renewable energy. More and more website owners are choosing to pay platforms like AWS for space to store files on giant web servers.
In an attempt to reduce the environmental impact of all this energy use, some choose to purchase offsets – payments that theoretically offset carbon emissions by supporting low-carbon energy production – while others buy energy from renewable sources to match their total energy consumption.
Meanwhile, a growing number of companies have installed renewable energy systems, such as solar panels or wind turbines with back-up batteries to directly power the IT infrastructure.
As the internet grows, I have looked for ways to develop greater sustainability closer to home. Designing websites that consume less energy could be a great way to start.
Each user who logged into The Conversation today generated approximately 1.3g of CO2, depending on their location and connection speed.
It’s not too bad, but not nearly as good as Google, whose relatively minimalist homepage only generates about 0.2g per visit, which is much better than the rich online homepage. Daily Mail images generating 54g per visit.
Given that these latter two websites receive approximately five billion and 300 million visits per day, respectively, it is easy to see how our internet-generated carbon emissions add up. If you are curious about the footprints of other websites, Website Carbon is a simple resource for estimating the website CO2 has produced.
Web designers could embrace minimalism, helping to reduce the energy required to load images, videos, and even specialized fonts which all require additional and large files. Of course, that would make the internet experience a lot less engaging.
THE SUN, THE INTERNET
Another potential solution for surfing in a more sustainable way is offered by initiatives like Solar Protocol and Low Tech Magazine.
These ingenious sites are powered entirely by solar energy.
Their responsive and eco-friendly website design strategies – including reduced color images and default fonts – allow their websites to perform more efficiently based on real-time evaluation of the environment. sunlight available.
Solar Protocol, for example, operates through a network of solar servers located across the world. When a user visits the site, their content is delivered from the server receiving the most solar energy at that time. The resolution of the website is also dynamically changed depending on the energy generated by the solar panel.
When the solar power or the battery level drops below a specific threshold, due to, for example, a cloudy day, websites become low-res.
They might even revert to a basic format containing only text when the clouds have really closed and the power is particularly low.
The challenge that designers and engineers face is scaling up on-site power generation technologies like these to help manage the huge number of sites on the web. Subtle changes to images or page resolution, made during times of low wind or solar production, could have significant effects on power consumption – but go unnoticed by users.
For businesses, the benefits of using technology like this include not only lower energy costs, but a better corporate reputation, thanks to growing public concern about sustainability.
Over 40% of UK businesses already generate some of their electricity on site using solar panels or wind capture.
The UK’s largest solar farm in Flintshire, Wales is mainly used to generate electricity for a nearby paper mill.
So the next step of powering commercial websites from local servers powered by renewable energy may not be such a drastic step.
* Jeff Kettle is Senior Lecturer in Electronic Engineering at Bangor University, Wales.