The power to run the Internet

A man walks inside the Pionen high-security computer storage facility of Swedish Bahnhof , one of the companies to host WikiLeaks servers on December 9, 2010 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Kai Ryssdal: Every time you Google something or check your Facebook or send a tweet, you're using energy. A lot of us -- I'm not saying naming any names here -- do these things, well, pretty much all day long.

Which prompted some research (pdf) into how much energy the Internet uses. Marketplace's Adriene Hill reports.


Adriene Hill: It takes a lot of energy to send an email: you've got to have your laptop charged, then there's the router and the cable modem, and then the data centers that the message will pass through.

Dennis Symanski is with the Electric Power Research Institute.

Dennis Symanski: All of those data centers have servers and storage arrays and routers and switches, that all have power cords.

And then your friend needs power to read the message. And even then, you're not done accounting for the energy it takes to make this little
"want to meet up for dinner" message happen.

Justin Ma: It takes energy to make the devices in the first place.

That's Justin Ma, a post-doc at U.C. Berkeley. He and his research partner Barath Raghavan estimated the total energy required to construct and run the Internet. They included the energy it takes to make and run all the desktops and laptops and servers and smartphones, and found that 1 to 2 percent of all the energy used in the world goes to making the Internet happen -- which is a lot.

But a little perspective: all the cars, and trucks and planes and trains we use, that's right around 27 percent.

One surprise from Ma and Raghavan's research (pdf): just how much energy goes into making the devices.

Ma: It turns out that manufacturing energy is roughly half of the Internet total energy use.

Sure, there's value in trying to make data centers more efficient, and unplugging our computers. But, says Ma, the really big energy savings might come from holding on to our computers and smartphones just a little -- or a lot -- longer.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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