European Commission reviews the energy footprints of digital actions

European Commission reviews the energy footprints of digital actions
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Ten common digital actions are assessed for their energy consumption as part of the European Commission’s strategy to address the growing consumption of the ICT sector.

With the energy consumption of the ICT sector set to approximately double by 2030 – globally the sector accounts for about 7% of consumption and is projected to rise to 13% by 2030 – the European Commission has the sector in its sights as part of its action plan for the digitalisation of the energy sector.

“Ensuring that the growing energy needs of the ICT sector are met in synergy with the climate neutrality objective is therefore an essential part of the twin green and digital transition,” the plan states, setting out a number of actions to address this issue.

One of these actions is a study and subsequent communication campaign on the responsible energy consumption of digital behaviours.

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The new study, which was undertaken by Ramboll Management Consulting and digital consultancy Resilio, thus fulfils the first part of this action point.

The ten common actions reviewed are:

  • 1 hour of video streaming
  • 1 hour of video gaming
  • 1 hour of video conferencing
  • 1 hour of music streaming
  • 1 hour of social networking
  • write, send and store an email
  • download a 1GB file to a PC
  • store 1GB of data in the cloud for 1 year,
  • prolong the lifespan of a mobile phone from 3 to 5 years
  • switch off the wi-fi router for 2 weeks.

Only the first five of these are directly comparable and range from averages of 0.024kWh for 1h of social networking to 0.128kWh for 1h of video conferencing.

However, overall the largest consumption goes to the wi-fi router switch off at 3.77kWh and the lowest is downloading a 1GB file to a PC at 0.004kWh, while prolonging the lifespan of a mobile yields the largest carbon benefits at 8.7kg CO2e per year.

The study, which also includes recommended best practices for energy saving with the actions, was based on a comprehensive literature review and life cycle assessment modelling.

The authors however acknowledge its limitations, with not all of the ten actions considered having been studied comprehensively.

They conclude nevertheless that while the energy impacts of digital behaviours might seem negligible when taken individually, they become considerable when performed repeatedly over time by each member of the entire cohort of users and overall are significant.

Energy savings can be achieved when more sustainable behaviours are adopted, they state, saying it therefore becomes important to raise users’ awareness about the impact of their individual digital behaviours and to encourage the adoption of such digital habits.