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The energy consumption of everyday actions goes unnoticed

Alert report on energy expenditure associated with digital technologies

The invisibility of the infrastructure necessary to operate with mobile phones, tablets, computers or cloud services means that the immense use of resources behind them is neglected. It is not directly visible in the electricity bill, but the manufacturers and service providers have to resort to a huge energy flow for the user to enjoy the new digital era. The simple viewing of a video for 10 minutes is equivalent to the consumption of a mobile for 10 days, five hours without stopping to write and send emails with a document attached to a mega or turn on a 2,000 watt oven at maximum power for five minutes.

The example of the video, reflected in the report LEAN ICT- Towards digital sobriety ("towards digital sobriety"), is essential to understand the footprint of the new era because the viewing of audiovisual products represents more than 80% of the traffic growth in Internet, according to the data of the multinational Cisco reflected in the study.

Behind a movie of only 10 minutes there are telecommunications networks, data centers and personal devices. Each element consumes and adds. In this framework, all the Internet of Things devices will be incorporated in these years. According to Cisco, the number of connected devices will increase from 1.9 per person in 2016 to between 13 and nine next year in developed countries. A study by GSMA estimates that a house with four members will have increased by 50% the number of appliances linked to the Network in five years. The proliferation of devices has triggered the demand for network traffic (more than 25% per year, according to Cisco) and data center capacity (35% per year).

But to the consumption during the use of the devices it is necessary to add the generated one for its manufacture. In the case of a mobile, according to the LEAN ICT report, before buying it, 90% of the total energy that will be required taking into account a useful life of two years has already been used. This impact on the production phases is 60% for the manufacture of an intelligent television or 80% on a laptop.


"Digital sobriety"
To reduce the impact of the new technological era, the report promotes a series of measures aimed at “digital sobriety”. Among them, to make known the footprint associated with the culture of purchase and renewal of devices (extend the useful life of the devices by a year or two can reduce the associated energy consumption by more than 25%), adapt the uses to a moderate use, avoid indiscriminate consumption of audiovisual material and acquire recharge habits only when necessary.

Data center managers can also implement measures, as Ramón Rodríguez, associate director of Sustainability and Energy at Arup Spain, a worldwide engineering and consulting company working on projects to make these facilities more efficient, warned.

The existing data process centers need an average of electricity equivalent to the consumption of a country like Spain. This demand accounts for 1% of the world's total electricity and generates 0.3% of global carbon emissions. The LEAN report calculates that digital development will emit both CO2 and all of India in the coming years in 2015.

If all the devices and networks linked to them are added to the centers, all this technology needs between 5% and 9% of the world's electricity consumption and raises its participation in global pollution to 2%, similar to that generated by Air transport

Rodríguez says that the mechanisms to make data centers more efficient mean an immediate return on investment. "You can achieve savings of between 28% and 32% in consumption per gigabyte and the corresponding in pollutant emissions," he says.

This expert explains that measures can be taken without interfering with the capacity and quality of services, such as improving the cooling equipment of data complexes or improving their location to place them in colder spaces or redistribute the load of servers to have one to 90% instead of three to 30% or reach agreements with supply companies to ensure the highest percentage of renewable energy.


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