Around 4.6 billion people use the internet every day. In fact, 350,000 tweets have been sent in the past minute. We tend to think of the internet as something ephemeral – partly thanks to terms like “web” and “cloud” – but the servers that host all that data produce huge amounts of emissions, leaving giant carbon footprints behind.
Today, there are around 30 billion internet-connected devices in the world. This includes personal computers, smartphones, TVs, and tablets, as well as myriad devices using the internet in subtler ways – like smart vehicles, smart home systems and smart watches – termed the Internet of Things.
Such internet-connected technologies are already playing a key role in the transition to a cleaner energy future; for example, home smart meters being rolled out across many countries help monitor and therefore reduce household energy usage. But as we rely on the internet to process, use and store ever more data, the power it uses is increasing. For the sake of our planet, we need to make the web more sustainable.
Research estimates that by 2025, the IT industry could use 20% of all electricity produced and emit up to 5.5% of the world’s carbon emissions. That’s more than most countries’ total emissions bar China, India and the US.
A growing proportion of IT energy consumption comes from data centres. These are buildings used to store data and computer hardware, which almost always plug directly into the local electricity grid. In most countries, that means they mostly use non-renewable sources of electricity.