The internet has not only become a consistent aspect of our daily lives, but is swiftly becoming an integrated part of today’s economy. The role that the internet plays in today’s society is growing by the day and will soon be doing things such as driving our cars, and even may alter the way we experience watching TV.
While the abilities of the internet may seem never-ending, the use of it for more tasks results in the need for growing amounts of data. The introduction of cheaper smartphones on the market means that internet usage and traffic from mobile devices will be greater than that which occurs over wired connections. The ever-growing rate of video streaming to mobile devices has increased by 69% in 2014 and is expected to keep increasing at this rate until 2019 at the earliest. In 2014, the total number of online users reached 3 billion, and the amount of mobile broadband subscriptions are predicted to reach 7.6 billion by 2020.
Although there are major benefits that online activities bring in energy efficiency, the extensive growth of our virtual lives is acting as a counterbalance. Publishing companies collectively use more energy from their data hubs than they would in their printing establishments. It was estimated by Greenpeace that in 2011 the average electricity demand caused by our digital systems in 2011 would have achieved a global ranking of 6th amongst countries. The swift movement to the use of video streaming concepts, together with devices such as tablets and other devices that displace traditional device storage with cloud storage facilities, leads to a widely growing demand for bigger data center capacities – which in turn requires more energy.
The changeover to online distribution models (for example, video streaming) seems to lead to the scaling down of the carbon footprint as opposed to traditional models.
However, some cases may counteract this decrease, as the transition may result in significantly higher levels of consumption – and therefore more electricity consumption, along with the pollution that is a result of electricity generation.
Unless major internet companies can find a different method that deflects the use of tradittional sources of electricity that produce pollution, the benefits of online streaming could lead to a total increase of our carbon footprint.
“If having the audacity to rely on grid power now puts a company at risk for public shaming, then the day is coming when every company’s energy usage will be viewed through a moral filter – similar to how its labor practices and foreign investments are viewed today.”
The Internet has the Potential to, and Should Be Green
The internet has already made drastic improvements in the lives of many and has opened up vast opportunities to the world. It is possible that it will play a significant role in the establishment of sustainable economic growth. It is, however, imperative to implement renewable energy methods as soon as possible in order to prevent detrimental climate change,
Fortunately, major companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple have made formal commitments to being completely powered by renewable energy. The commitments of these companies to renewable energy has promoted the use of renewable power in many significant markets – an increasing number of utilities have started to move their investments to renewable energy in order to keep up with the new demand.
Large data center operators and internet establishments have started to look at opportunities for increasing the supply of renewable energy. Colocation data centers are lagging far behind this initiative, however they are looking into options to best enhance their ability to supply renewable energy, due to customer requests that their clouds be powered by renewable energy.
“An energy efficient facility is good, but a 100% renewable energy facility is better”
Preventing the Concept of Green Internet
The only major energy providers in many important data centers happen to sell electricity that is generated mainly by coal, and makes little use of renewable energy. These utilities tend to compel major new investments in data centers. Significant examples of these utilities include: Taiwan Power Company in Taiwan, Duke Energy (North Carolina, USA) and Dominion Resources (Virginia, USA) and have established electricity tax in order to be able to supply renewable electricity as an option for their major customers. However, this initiative has not been very successful because of inaccurate design and locked-in price premiums – even though this option is on par with, if not ahead of conventional methods of generation.
These companies have defined the most major elements that are preventing the formation of a green internet, and will need co-operation from both data center operators and other consumers of electricity to apply pressure for policy adjustments, and to free the market up to other competitors that will provide relevant renewable energy options.
Key Findings Based on the Greenpeace Global Green Internet Report
Apple has remained the leading company in changing to renewable energy, even as the corporation rapidly develops. The three data expansions that was publicised recently are to be powered by renewable energy. Apple is also majorly influencing colocation suppliers in keeping up with making progress towards its complete renewable energy objective.
Colocation companies have remained in a lagging state and are really behind consumer data center operaters in finding renewable energy opportunities to power their actions. Equinix’s commitment to 100% renewable energy and providing of renewably hosted facilities is an important step in the right direction.
Google has matched Apple in establishing renewable energy with its development in certain markets. However, its moves towards 100% renewable energy sees ongoing obstructions by monopoly utilities for data centers including such in Taiwan, Singapore and North and South Carolina.
Amazon’s implementation of a complete renewable energy target is lacking in standard transparency. It also does not seem to be steering Amazon’s investment choices to renewable energy as opposed to coal, unlike the commitments of Facebook, Google and Apple.
The swift increase of video streaming is causing major enlargement of our online footprint, as well as in data centres that are greedy for power and the online infrastructure that is required to supply the energy.
Microsoft has fallen significantly behind Apple and Google in implementing green internet strategies. Its cloud footprint has consistently grown rapidly while trying to keep up with the likes of Amazon, however has not been able to retain its pace with Apple and Google regarding its provision of renewable energy.
Data center operators have committed to renewable energy objectives, and will need to majorly increase their actions in working together to influence policymakers for adjustments that will allow them to bring in the use of renewable energy, while defeating the opposition of monopoly utilities.