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Stranger Things Are Happening to Our Energy Demand

Have you caught up with the latest Stranger Things? Maybe you’re binge watching Game of Thrones for the third time this year? Whatever you feel about that ending, we’re here to tell you there’s a new bad guy on the horizon, and it’s thirsty for energy. Video streaming is on the rise, and it’s responsible for a substantial and growing share of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

The truth is that we’re often physically and emotionally disconnected from the reality of our digital energy footprint. A quick charge after work and we’re back to watching cat videos on our phone or sending messages to friends.

It’s not just the electricity used to charge devices. It’s what’s hidden in the background that counts.

According to analysis undertaken by think tank The Shift Project, digital technologies as a whole are now responsible for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with projected growth of 9% annually. The energy requirement for just producing technologies and gadgets such as TVs, computers and smartphones accounts for almost half (45%) of digital technologies’ total energy demand. That’s before a device even gets into your hand.

It’s the other 55% of energy use where things become interesting for our Stranger Things addiction. It’s not just the electricity used to charge devices – analysis reveals the energy used to power our device is negligible in our overall consumption for online video streaming. It’s what’s hidden in the background that counts. Here’s a look at the figures behind our online video consumption, and what we can do to balance the cost of Netflix, and chill.

EW Infographic - Stranger Things are Happening to our Energy Use_v2

The hidden energy demand of video streaming

Major video service providers like YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime, store their videos in vast data centres. These huge facilities are stacked full of state-of-the-art hard drives and data infrastructure whirring away to host the latest blockbuster shows. But powering those data centres takes electricity.

It’s not enough just to host that video of course, it somehow needs to get to your device. That’s where networks come in. This hard data infrastructure is comprised of satellite links and fibre optic cables criss-crossing the world, connecting your smart devices with awesome clips and amazing shows. That all comes with a price too.

Just 10 hours of high-definition video represents more data than the entire catalogue of English language Wikipedia articles. That means one series of Stranger Things has a greater data burden than ~6 million articles on Wikipedia. It’s a lot quicker to get through it too.

So what about your next binge watch? The carbon footprint of video streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime is responsible for over 102 MtCO2e of emissions in 2018. That alone is equal to the carbon footprint of Chile. On-demand video has gone far beyond Game of Thrones. It’s now a monstrous game of energy demand.

What can you do to reduce your energy burden?

Netflix and chill is an essential part of relaxation for many of us around the world. So what can we do to manage our energy demand in a world where online video streaming has such a substantial energy footprint?

  • Turn off devices when you’re done. Conserving electricity by switching off televisions and laptops overnight is a simple step to reducing your electricity demand. Turn off, don’t stand by.
  • Reduce brightness on your devices where possible, including TVs and smartphones. The more you need to charge, the more electricity is consumed. When you consider there are an estimated 5 billion mobile phones globally, that soon adds up.
  • Lower the resolution on videos. This may seem a confusing step, but lowering the resolution while maintaining a watchable standard reduces data use, and the energy burden that goes along with it.
  • Stick with your old devices for as long as they fit your needs. Remember that 45% of the total energy footprint for digital technology comes before you even touch a device. If you’ve got a great smartphone or TV that does what you want, do you need to spend money and energy upgrading it?

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