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Big Data has always demanded Big Electron.
May 22, 2014 1:09 PM

How much electricity is really needed to power all of our phones, iPads, computers, etc?

Regardless of the precise amount of energy being used to run our digital communications network, it's readily apparent that communications-related electrical demand is growing rapidly. Between 2005 and 2010, global use of electricity in data centers grew by about 56 percent. That's more than three times as fast as the growth in global electricity consumption over that same time frame. It's apparent that the demand for electricity to power data centers will continue to grow as more people, and more things, get connected to the Internet. A plethora of digital devices -- ranging from smartphones to GPS-enabled locators on shipping containers -- is connecting to the network. In 2012, Intel estimated that there were about 2.5 billion devices connected to the Web. By 2015, it expects there will be 15 billion Net-connected devices. Ericsson predicts 50 billion by 2030.

Again, the exact numbers are not as important as the trend. The push for Smaller Faster digital devices requires moving ever-more information. The more computing power we use, the more electricity we consume.

Some have estimated the total demand for electricity to run our gadgets at 7% of total electricity use today!

In 2013, Mark Mills, a colleague at the Manhattan Institute, wrote a report called "The Cloud Begins with Coal," which put the total even higher. Mills estimated then when all the energy used for telephony, Internet, data storage, and the manufacturing of information-technology hardware is included, about 7 percent of all global electricity is being used in our effort to stay connected. That now amounts to about 1,500 terawatt-hours per year, or nearly as much electricity as is used annually by Japan and Germany combined.

Note: this study by Mark Mills was paid for by the coal industry, sponsored by the National Mining Association. Reader beware.

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