Please read Jane Anne Morris' excellent piece about the real amount of energy used to power the Internet. Has anyone written about the amount of energy required to manufacture (and transport to consumers) the devices that access the Internet? In the Atlantic, Yepoka Yeebo recently described the impact that discarded devices (66 pounds per year per Westerner) have on one Ghanaian community.
Eat, Sleep, Click: The Bicycle-Powered Internet (2012)
by Jane Anne Morris
Save a tree, bank online. Subscribe Online, reduce your carbon footprint. Listen to music online, watch movies online, read books online. No mess, no fuss. Google Inc. has photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on its headquarters. With all that footprint-lightening, you may soon be down to no ecological footprint at all, right?
Since everyone wants the Internet to have a gentle footprint and not be "evil," we should power it with green electricity. Start with a bicycle generator and a server. Here are some back-of-the-envelope figures.
All the stuff on the Internet, or in the "cloud," is kept aloft by computers called servers (plus routers and so on). An average server draws 400 watts/ hour, half of that for cooling (fairly typical), and 3500 kilowatt-hours (kwh) per year, because it never shuts down.
A healthy biker can produce a constant 100 watts/hour on a bicycle generator, a generous estimate. Four generator bikes at 100 watts/hour apiece would power a server. Alas, that single server can't accomplish much by itself. Various techies have estimated that a single online search activates between 1000 and 20,000 servers, often located all over the world.
Numerous servers are housed together in places called server farms or data centers. To power a modest-sized data center (50,000 servers) by bicy- cle power would require almost a million pedalers and an area equivalent to 347 football fields. Data centers can be as small as closets at the back of a business, or as large as several football fields and use as much electricity as small cities. They run 24/7/365, and tend to have multiply redundant backup systems, so no one has to wait ten seconds to learn from a web site if it's raining outside.