Government and the energy industry are very excited about the hoped for energy saving opportunities the IoE may provide. Armed with an astronomical amount of data that will be generated by the IoE, industry expects it will be better equipped to 1) reduce peak load on the grid; 2) design new energy saving technologies; and 3) implement energy-saving programs to reduce consumption or shift load to off-peak times. But these projections fail to include in their analysis the mega energy footprint of the IoE. It is not at all certain that the IoE will ever succeed in offsetting its own fast growing and unbounded energy consumption.
Wireless technology consumes far more energy than fiber, cable or DSL
Wireless technologies consume far more energy than do wired technologies. According to Kris De Decker Why We Need a Speed Limit to the Internet, a wired connection is the most energy-efficient way to communicate digitally. If connection is made through a cellular network, energy use “soars.” De Decker explains that 3G technologies use about 15 times more energy than wired connections, and 4G technologies consume 23 times more energy. There is no data yet on 5G. If the bulk of our Information Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure and transmissions were wired, such as Fiber to the Home (FTTH), the energy footprint from our “digital world” could be significantly reduced. But because the IoE will greatly grow our dependence on wireless technologies, and because wireless consumes far more energy than wired alternatives, we are now facing an unprecedented and exponential growth in energy consumption.
Energy efficiency measures offset by usage
Digital technologies are becoming increasingly more energy efficient, and this trend will hopefully continue, at least for a while. (There is only a finite amount of efficiency possible.) However, while we are making great strides in energy efficiency, more and more people are conducting greater portions of their lives online and spending greater amounts of time online. Furthermore, not all online activities consume energy equally. There is a hierarchy in energy consumption: The written word is the least energy intensive. Images consume more energy. And, to date, by far the most energy-intensive online activity is watching videos and particularly, high definition videos which 5G is promising. Online videos occupy an increasingly greater percentage of all online activity – restated, people are watching far more videos than ever before.
It is a common occurrence in digital technologies that improvements in energy efficiency of a particular device, bring about accompanying changes in usage of the device that often offset the hoped for energy savings. This is known as the “rebound effect”. For example, a smart phone uses significantly less energy than does a desktop computer. But due to the size of a smart phone, it can be carried around and used 24/7. This increase in use thus negates, or significantly reduces, over-all energy savings.
We may presume that as more and more “things” in our world take up residence in the Cloud, people’s time online to connect with this data and their “digital selves” will also increase. Bryon Walsh, Senior Editor at TIME, writes,
“As our lives migrate to the digital cloud — and as more and more wireless devices of all sorts become part of our lives — the electrons will follow. And that shift underscores how challenging it will be to reduce electricity use and carbon emissions even as we become more efficient.”
FOUR WAYS THE IoE CONSUMES ENERGY
1. Data centers:
In an IoE world, data collected from billions of machines, “things,” and devices, as well as from sensors integrated into our environment, will be stored and responded to in data centers. The 2014 paper, Data Center Efficiency Assessment by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), reports that the 2 million computer servers in close to 3 million data centers that are used in the US for online activities “gulp enough electricity to power all of NYC’s households for 2 years.”
The NRDC goes on to explain:
“Data center electricity consumption is projected to increase to roughly 140 billion kilowatt-hours annually by 2020, the equivalent annual output of 50 power plants, costing American businesses $13 billion annually in electricity bills and emitting nearly 100 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year.” (Please note these figures were compiled well before the IoE.)
Greenpeace International explains it this way : “If the Cloud were a country it would have the fifth largest energy demand in the world.”
Although plans are underway to build future data centers in places where cleaner energy sources are available, the fact remains that data centers already consume mega amounts of energy, and this is only going to increase with the IoE.