Energy and the Internet: How To Be A Conscious Browser


Many people around the world are concerned with the real impact of global warming, but they often think in terms of large-scale energy users such as factories or municipalities, ignoring one of the biggest factors in energy use: the Internet.

As a growing percentage of people conduct business, shop and communicate online, companies must be mindful of building a “greener” Internet, and those who are concerned with saving the planet must be aware of which companies are working to power their services and websites with renewable energy.

Escalating Demand; Escalating Energy Use

There is no doubt that the future belongs to the Internet, and companies are focusing their efforts on their online presence in order to take advantage of the growing number of people around the globe who are online. This growth translates into an escalating demand for storage and streaming services, which eventually results in an escalating need for energy. As the Internet continues to grow, sustainable energy sources will be a primary resource for powering millions of users and storing tons of data.

One of the biggest users of energy is the data center – a conglomeration of numerous servers and computers that power the Internet’s ability to share data instantly around the globe. Data centers power tremendous numbers of servers, many of which will never be shut off. Running 24 hours per day, the datacenter can easily consume far more energy than cars, household appliances or other supposedly high consumers of energy. However, few people realize just how important it is to power data centers with green technology, particularly since the demand for big data is going nowhere but up.

Top Tech Companies—Is it Easy Being Green?

Jumping on the environmental bandwagon is fashionable these days, and companies like Apple, Google and Facebook have all made statements supporting the commitment to reducing global warming and using more renewable energy sources to power their activities.

Apple has always been a leader in renewable energy use, and has publicly announced that it powers all of its data centers with completely clean energy. Both Apple and Google have invested millions in wind, water and solar energy. However, even with this public commitment to protecting the environment, the companies may still fall short when it comes to actual renewable energy practice.

Greenpeace has provided a handy “Click Clean” report that rates these companies in terms of how they power their online activities. This report is useful in determining if the companies in question are truly as green as they claim. Greenpeace gives Apple the best rating, primarily due to its investment in solar power. However, the group also points out that Amazon is one of the largest IT companies in the world and refuses to disclose information about its carbon footprint.

Greenpeace estimates that the global demand for energy will increase by half a trillion kilowatts per year by 2017, primarily due to the growth in demand for networks that can support personal devices. Streaming video, which will account for three quarters of Internet use in the future, is one of the biggest energy users.

Why Not Renewable Energy?

Besides costs, there are several obstacles in the way of moving completely to sustainable energy sources. Many states have strong lobbies on behalf of coal, gas and other energy sources that impacts companies which do business there. In some states, it is even illegal to convert to another energy source while doing business.

Utility monopolies, which are often funded by dirty energy and which do not want to lose the opportunity to provide energy for growing data centers, will use every means possible to prevent the conversion to clean energy sources. It is up to Internet companies to join in the government policy debate that will ultimately bring about this type of change.

Global Warming—A Real Impetus for Change

Of all the challenges facing the world, there is none greater than global climate change. It will ultimately affect everyone on the planet, although few people are seriously concerned about its impact. Internet companies have the power not only to change the way they use energy but the attitude surrounding the global warming crisis. Since the energy sector contributes, according to Ohio Gas, about one fourth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, it’s important that Internet companies turn to more sustainable energy practices to reduce their impact on the environment.

The burning of fossil fuels is one of the primary factors linked to global warming. The fact is that most big companies still rely on dirty and dangerous fossil fuel to power their activities. If large Internet companies will take a stand on adapting to climate change by using renewable energy sources instead of dirty fossil fuel, the overall attitude toward the feasibility of using these types of energy could change. A change like that could, literally, save the planet.