The internet is good for the planet, and let’s keep it that way
The hardware the drives the internet includes a plethora of data centers filled with computing gear, networks that connect continents, and a growing amount of battery-powered devices. Does the energy required to operate these things consume more resources than we can afford?
Is the internet good for the planet? A group of very bright people are working to determine how the internet effects our environment.
That’s the million dollar question that a group of about 100 people, including Vice President Al Gore and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, tackled at a Google event this week. It’s also the question that I’ve spent about six years thinking about as I’ve written about the evolution of cleantech innovation and how digital technologies can drive efficiency.
The rub of the internet is that it is a collection of data centers filled with computing gear, networks that weave across continents, and a growing amount of battery-powered devices; all of these things need energy to operate. The disturbing part is that the energy consumption of the internet will only grow as the population hits 9 billion in 2050, and all of these people get connected to the internet.
But on the flip side of that energy suck is the idea that the internet can make processes and systems significantly more energy efficient, from transportation to shopping to the electricity network itself. Sustainability wonks call that dematerialization, or replacing atoms with bits. A study called Climate 2020 found that information and communications technology could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from other sectors of the economy, below business-as-usual growth, by 15 percent."
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