Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Information's Carbon Footprint

This Boston Globe editorial doesn't have sourcing, but some of its claims definitely make you think:
  • "emailing a 4.7-megabyte attachment — the equivalent of four large digital photos — can use as much energy as it takes to boil about 17 kettles of water."
  • "The total amount of digital storage worldwide is approaching 1 zettabyte (10^21 bytes), or 1 million times the contents of the Earth’s largest library."
  • "Currently, that information is archived on equipment with a mass equivalent to 20 percent of Manhattan."
  • "Global data storage is expected to reach 35 zettabytes by 2020...."
  • "The information industry already accounts for approximately 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. That’s the same amount as the airline industry blasts into the atmosphere."
They don't say how much energy is used to route information versus to store information, but I would guess that the latter dominates. What will a 35x increase mean for energy consumption?


andrewt said...


US IP traffic = ~1e20 bytes/year
if 5mb = 1kwh
1e20 bytes/year = 2e14 kwh/year

an order of magnitude larger than US electric consumption =4e13 kwh/year

the marginal cost of a 5mb e-mail must be several orders of magnitude less than they suggest

Anonymous said...

David... you are a FOOL! This 'Globe Editorial' is FAKE! The original source is a poor quality interview from the BBC using information from various "green" sources including the Energy Savings Trust of the UK .. which is a puppet of AL 'the criminal' GORE!-- PLEASE do parrot idea that you fail to understand and NEVER take a "news" editorial at face value!

Chris_Winter said...


Can I assume your distrust extends to Fox News? Probably not for someone who thinks Al Gore's middle name is "the criminal."

Chris_Winter said...

About Internet energy use: I think that article overstates it.

Here's a good source: