How much energy are you sucking up by playing a song on Spotify, watching iPlayer or streaming a movie on Netflix? More than you might think, according to a forthcoming report.
Dagfinn Bach, the founder of Bach Technology, has put together a study for MusicTank that considers the environmental impact of sending data around the world. “If you look at a photo on a screen, it costs energy to transport the data from a server to you. If you’re watching a video or listening to a song, it’s even worse,” he said in an interview with Eamon Forde, embedded in this post.
Much of the energy cost is in the heat generated by datacentres. Cooling them requires inefficient air conditioning units, meaning that datacentres take up, Bach claims, three to four percent of the world’s electric energy — more than aviation.
Bach argues that a big part of the solution is greater use of local caching. “It doesn’t make sense to transport something to you every time that you want to consume it, because in music you transport the same thing many, many times,” he says. “Static content could easily be downloaded and stored, while only dynamic content is streamed.”
The problem with that, however, is licensing. Content companies have been reticent in the past to allow consumers to download tracks or videos for fear of the encryption being cracked and the files shared freely across the web. “It’s a big step for the music industry,” Bach says. “You could pay a monthly fee to allow for unlimited filesharing.”
What’s important right now, he said, is to start thinking about these problems as early as possible, and for the content companies to get stuck in with negotiating the standards. “The music industry has to come to the front seat and take the steering wheel in their hands,” he said.
Bach’s report will be released in mid-2012.