Is the Internet Sustainable When Everyone On Earth Uses Over 3 Gigabytes of Data Per Day?
Originally published: December 5, 2010
Last updated: December 9, 2010 - 12:09pm
Though we tend not to mention it in the same breath as transportation, heating our homes, or lighting our offices, downloading data consumes energy too.
As more people turn to the Internet for increasingly data-intensive activities, computer scientists from the UK's Bristol University decided to crunch the numbers and project the ultimate impact on the environment. The results are staggering. The researchers assumed that people in the developed world would maintain the same level of media consumption, but move it entirely to the cloud, and that the global middle glass would reach a similar level of data use. With those assumption in place, the researchers reckon that each person will demand, on average, over 3 gigabytes of data per day. That'll come to 2,570 exabytes per year for the global population, by 2030. (An exabyte is a billion gigabytes.) The average power needed to sustain such activity would be 1,175 gigawatts. It takes an entire large coal-fired power plant to produce just one gigawatt of energy, so imagine 1,175 of those churning out power just to fuel the world's data hunger. Big numbers--as any global figures are--and they've led researchers Chris Preist and Paul Shabajee to propose innovative strategies for containing consumption. Intriguingly, Preist and Shabajee talk about cloud computing in terms more familiar to recycling programs: they want us to change our behavior to reduce "digital waste." Taking a page from behavioral economics and the authors of the popular book Nudge, they advocate "persuasive" web design that nudges users into choosing less data-intensive options--avoiding that high-res photo when a medium-res would suffice.
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