Digital Economy Long Way off Becoming Environmentally Sustainable
A cross-party group of MPs raised doubts earlier this year over whether the growing demand for digital technology is environmentally sustainable. They are questioning whether the need for gadgets can be offset by energy efficiency improvements over time.
Smartphones have become more efficient which has managed to balance out the increased power demand that comes from growing consumption.
However, it’s unclear whether the improved efficiency gains will continue to have an effect. According to a report by the Policy Connect thinktank, there is “much work” to be done to ensure that the digital economy is environmentally sustainable.
They have called on the government to map out the amount of energy consumed by the internet use and computing. This has already been done in Germany in Sweden but not the UK so far. The power demand for internet and computing now accounts for about 6% of the world’s electricity use.
Antoinette Sandbach, a Conservative MP in the group said: “We must take the necessary steps to ensure that we minimise the impact of internet use on the environment.”
Bitcoin’s power consumption
Sandbag, a campaign group has recently highlighted that the growing demand for Bitcoin is having a huge effect on power consumption. Iceland has warned that energy use from mining for the cryptocurrency is set to overtake the power used by homes.
According to another estimate from Digiconomist, mining for Bitcoin uses more electricity in a year than the whole of Ireland does.
The report warned that while progress has been made with energy efficient devices, this might not be enough to offset the growing demand. “In such a fast developing sector, the future is more uncertain. It is unknown whether efficiency gains will continue, or whether they will slow or even stall.”
Lead by example
The cross-party group has called on the government to lead by example and start by running highly efficient data centres, powered by renewables.
Four out of five data centres used in the public sector are in small server rooms and miss out of the efficiency gains that giant tech firms such as Google and Facebook get from large-scale data centres.
Sophia Flucker, director at Operational Intelligence, a consultancy firm which advises data centre owners said: “There is still room for improvement in data centres’ use of energy, particularly for older facilities. However, growth tends to keep up with and outpace the gains from energy efficiency, so in the future, we can expect our digital lives to account for an increasing share of global energy use.”
Do you think new technology sustainable? Would you also like the government to make changes to the way they consume power? Please share your thoughts!