How much energy the Internet spends, and how much it will stop spending

The cost in electrical energy of sending information via the Internet, although it is very low, almost tiny, it is still significantly quantifiable.

It is estimated that sending a megabyte of information through the Network currently costs about $ 0.001. It is little, but adding all the use that humanity makes of the Network, it turns out that the Internet consumes up to 1.5% of all world electricity with a cost of 8,500 million dollars.

But this has only just begun. There are more and more millions of people surfing the Web, and every time we send more information. As he explains Jeremy Rifkin in his book The society of almost zero marginal cost:

Google consumes the same electricity as 200,000 homes. Much of the electricity goes to servers and data centers around the world. In 2011, and only in the United States, the electricity consumed by servers and data centers had an approximate cost of 7.5 billion dollars. The federal government has gone from 432 data centers in 1998 to 2,094 in 2010. In 2011, there were more than 509,000 data centers across the planet that occupied 26.5 million square meters, an area equivalent to 6,000 soccer fields .

Much of this electricity used is transformed into heat, a heat that must dissipate with refrigeration equipment that also consumes electricity: between 25 and 50% of the electricity goes to cool the facilities.

As we explain on the Internet it also pollutes, the Google search engine, which already functions as a kind of Alexandrian library, does not generate a quantity of carbon dioxide just as a library of such size would. But it does:

A simple search in the search engine generates about 7 grams of carbon dioxide. To give you an idea of ​​the figure, boiling a kettle produces about 15 grams. And is that Google works through electricity, and electricity is real.

The future of Internet consumption

But various investigations are already underway to significantly reduce Internet energy consumption, which is already low, to marginal cost levels close to zero. In January 2013, researchers from the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, England, presented a method consisting of storing data in synthetic DNA.

In this way, they managed to store five files, among which were the mp3 of the speech “I have a dream” by Martin Luther King Jr. or an article by Watson and Crick describing the DNA, transforming the zeros and ones into the letters of the DNA .

According to George Church, a Harvard researcher, the information that is stored today in all disk drives in the world could be stored in a DNA chain that would fit in the palm of your hand. (…) Today, the cost of reading the code is high and it takes a long time to decode the information. But researchers are confident that bioinformatics will also progress exponentially and that the marginal cost will approach zero in the coming decades.

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