Despite its new economy sheen, the internet represents a surprisingly large old economy drain on energy resources. Industry and academia must work together to ensure the internet is a positive contributor to global efficiency.
There is no question that the internet already occupies a central position in the way we work and play. Advances in mobile phone technology, tablet computers, and fixed-line broadband internet access networks, such as the NBN, are transforming our lives.
Data, including video, have never been more accessible, and on-demand services are now commonplace for many. New broadband services, including mobile applications, are opening up new opportunities that will impact on almost every sector of the economy from agriculture to advanced healthcare.
Added to this, the explosion of “cloud” services and applications is providing users around the globe with on-demand computing, storage, and software services that can be accessed from any location.
All that is needed is a network connection and a device such as a laptop, tablet or mobile phone. This means that users can very easily access to data and applications at any time via the internet.
As a result, the amount of data being carried over the internet is increasing at around 40% per annum. This growth is being driven by increased data demands among existing users as well as an explosion of new users as developing countries embrace the internet and digital communications. At this rate, the internet will grow 100 times by 2025.
Many uses of the internet and digital communications are promoted as assisting with energy consumption. Telework enables employees to work from home, reducing the number of cars on the road thereby reducing travel time on the road and public transport network, and reducing emissions.
Smart metering has the potential to empower consumers to better understand their energy usage in the home, and promote more responsible use.
Machine-to-machine communications are required to underpin widespread use of renewable energy sources into the national grid, the introduction of the electric vehicle and automated and intelligent control of energy consumption in homes and workplaces.
But what are the energy implications of this explosion in internet use on its energy consumption? Our research group at the University of Melbourne has recently shown that the internet currently consumes up to 2% of the world’s electricity.
This might not seem like a lot of electricity, but we project that the increased use of broadband applications and services, including the rise of cloud computing, could push this power consumption to 10% or more of the world’s electricity supply. How can we ensure the future internet is a positive contributor to global energy efficiency?
Fortunately, it might be possible to avert the rise in internet and cloud energy consumption. The Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications (CEET) at the University of Melbourne, with the support of the Victorian State Government, is working in partnership with Alcatel-Lucent Australia and Alcatel-Lucent’s research arm, Bell Labs, on innovative approaches to re-inventing the internet to be much more energy-efficient.
Our research indicates that significant improvements in energy efficiency might be possible if radically different approaches are taken in network design, construction and maintenance.
Our collaborations with Alcatel-Lucent and with the global consortium GreenTouch have been very productive, and have resulted in a number of breakthroughs.
But the energy-efficiency problem is very complex, and is a long way from being completely solved. In short, more telecommunications organisations need to be brought to the table to work on this pressing problem. Alcatel-Lucent recently won an Australian industry award for environmental responsibility, as a result of their collaborations with CEET.
But the disappointing thing was that Alcatel-Lucent was the only nominee for the award. Why aren’t there more organisations in Australia paying attention to the importance of energy efficiency in telecommunications?
Looking for solutions
In a recent article for Technology Spectator, Seán O’Halloran, President and Managing Director of Alcatel-Lucent Australia, sent a wake-up call to the Australian telecommunications industry and announced the inaugural Australian Energy-Efficient Internet Summit, to be held in Melbourne on September 18.
From our research to date we know this is not a challenge that can be met without collaboration across the internet environment. This summit will be a unique opportunity for equipment and system vendors, operators, service and application providers, and researchers, to explore how different network parts contribute to network energy consumption and various approaches that could be taken to improve their efficiency.
It will highlight the challenges, the good work underway and how that can be strengthened by collaboration.
For more information on the Australian Energy-Efficient Internet Summit, visit CEET.