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How much energy (and CO2) in a glance

Every day, billions of people spend even more billions of minutes at screens, for a quick smartphone call, hours of work or enjoying a film…

by Eni Staff
15 December 2019
3 min read
by Eni Staff
15 December 2019
3 min read

This is an ever-growing phenomenon. In a few years, the ecological footprint of digital and IT will also grow by an unprecedented amount. We’ve already talkedabout it here, in relation to a study projecting a future where machines, connected virtually from every corner of the world, get more and more starved of energy, at the same time as causing rising emissions of climate-altering gas, albeit indirectly. A few months later, further research confirmed and expanded on these predictions, predicting a slightly worrying scenario in 2025.

The digital world expands

Let’s look at the statistics. It’s estimated that the environmental impact of digital equals 4.2% of global energy consumption and 3.8% of greenhouse gas emissions. Now, according to analysis by GreenIT, a research centre studying the evolution of information technology, by 2025 our smartphones, computers, computing centres, TVs, all connected through the internet, will consume 6% of all the energy used by people and be responsible for 5.5% of climate-altering emissions. To put that into context, just think that the transport sector, at a global level, produces 14% of emissions, while industry releases 21% and electricity and heat production 25%. Not small beer, then. But what else would you expect from 24 million connected devices, in the hands of more than 4 billion users?

But another worrying thing about digital, besides its growing footprint, is its structure. For one thing, growth rates for digital’s various areas of impact are far higher than in any other sector; between 2010 and 2025, energy consumption is expected to rise by a factor of 2.9 and climate-altering emissions by a factor of 3.1. For another, digital devices themselves, when you take into account their whole life cycle, from production and use to disposal and finally recycling, play a leading role in emissions, producing 39% of the digital world’s greenhouse gas. By 2025 the total number of these gadgets is predicted to go beyond 50 billion. Unexpectedly, the lion’s share is provided by the very devices staring extinction in the face: TVs. Estimates say that by 2025, there should be 1.2 billion of them around the world, twice as many as in 2010. Thanks to the progress made in the TV industry, the size of their screens will also double, going from 31 to 65 inches diagonally on average between 2010 and 2025. Meanwhile, smartphones, the market for which is already almost saturated, won’t increase the environmental footprint for digital very much.

The video impact

There’s yet more cause for worry. The more widespread web-connected TVs and other devices become, the more energy will be consumed by the whole system distributing the images on our screens. That encompasses everything from big data centres and web networks to the little modem in your house that links you up to them. And it’s using them to watch videos, especially online, that makes the most impact. Overall, it’s estimated that the production of computers, TVs, smartphones and other gadgets is responsible for just under 45% of the sector’s impact in terms of energy consumption and climate-altering emissions. The rest comes from the web, at 16%, data centres, at 19%, and terminals, at 20%. Two thirds of that last chunk is from TVs.