Okay, pollution has decreased in many ways during the coronavirus, but surfing the Internet at home isn’t as innocent as you might think. We climb into the chaos of the contrast between the web and environmental friendliness.
Everyone probably already has the false news and the resulting memes that dolphins have returned to Venice, polar bears to Moscow, bison to Texas, and turkey birds to the Great Plain as a result of access restrictions due to the coronavirus. Of course, all such news is a hoax, but the fact that in many respects helped the environment in the event of an epidemic, such as air pollution or noise pollution. However, there was also an aspect of the thing that made things a little worse in the world. In our explanatory article, we delve into the problem of energy hunger on the Internet.
It is also probably no surprise to anyone that internet traffic has skyrocketed in the absence of curfew, with evenings with friends, concerts, sporting events and more, people have been streaming movies and series, videoconferencing, teleworking and telecommuting. , and they passed the time with online games. Nowadays, the internet is not fueled by the soft buzz of non-glitter pony wings, so if net usage rises sharply, it will certainly pump up energy consumption.
In the case of Netflix, for example, it was calculated that six hours of normal video streaming would emit roughly the same amount of emissions as if we burned a liter of gas in a car. The way it is calculated is quite complicated, but basically the energy consumption of the data centers behind the video service puts most of its carbon footprint on the graying prairie of the planet.
According to other sources, the total annual carbon footprint of the current global IT sector is the same as that caused by total world aircraft traffic in a normal year.
How much does streaming consume?
Video currently accounts for about 80 percent of Internet traffic. In the case of streaming, the huge server fleet that stores, encodes and distributes video content is the one that consumes the most.
According to a 2015 study, data centers will account for 13% of global energy consumption by 2030, which will account for about 6% of global CO2 emissions. This growth is also supported by the EU-funded Eureca project, which revealed that EU countries consumed 25 percent more energy in 2017 compared to 2014. And these are all based on “normal” years, not like the crown-headed, all-online 2020, at the end of which the above numbers could be worse than planned.
Let’s also add to the current numbers that our level of IT demand is usually growing faster and faster. Just imagine when, say, 30 years ago with a dial-up modem, we waited up to five minutes for a higher resolution (see VGA) image file to suffer on our monitor, compared to a few years ago by streaming 1080p movies on mobile on top of the mountain, and today we are already starting to feel like 4K. The development constant known as Moore’s Law seems to be becoming less and less constant, with users expecting an inhumane improvement in digital services, while manufacturers are starting to go crazy at speed.
The pace of manufacturing technology has most recently retaliated against Intel when it came to its senses in the race to develop smaller and more energy-efficient chips. However, experts say that the key to sustainable computing and telecommunications is that despite users expecting better, nicer, faster, more glorious services, the technology behind them needs to be made more and more energy-efficient.
Miniaturization for the Earth
Currently, pretty much everyone is trying to make their equipment more energy efficient by trying to make the components that make up their equipment smaller and smaller every year (more precisely every 2-3 years if everything goes well) and thus with less and less power consumption. On the other hand, it is clear from the example of Intel, among others, that this is not really possible with existing methods indefinitely.
One possible solution is to develop an Australian Research Center (ARC Center of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies – FLEET), which would use a new material, sodium bismuth, as a semiconductor instead of the current silicon-based production, with much lower current consumption. This solution is able to deliver current without measurable resistance – ergo has almost no energy loss. The research has so far won a Nobel Prize in Physics for the team in 2016 and has been working on practical implementation ever since.
Others argue that some of the tasks covered by traditional computing should be slowly entrusted to quantum machines, which perform customized calculations much faster than supercomputers based on traditional foundations. Either way, IT is consuming more and more energy as we ourselves consume more and more and more complex mix of IT services. By implication, this should not (and cannot) be curbed by banning everyone from using the Internet or setting a maximum of one and a half hours of Netflix a day: more efficient manufacturing and service methods need to be developed to meet growing demands with ever smaller carbon footprints.