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Question about how much energy the internet uses? Answered

On BBC World Service yesterday a man stated that sending a 4.8Mb  email creates as much greenhouse gas emissions as boiling 17.5 kettles of water.

I just cannot see how this can be true; he said it twice so I did not mishear.

So unless I misunderstood entirely could anybody explain how?


I worked 10 years at a phone company. Most people dont realize the massive amounts of fiber optic equipment and electric power equipment required to make modern communications possible. However, whether you send files OR NOT... this equipment is ALWAYS using electricity. So don't worry about sending files or receiving calls. The equipment is always using power regardless of whether you are connected to it or not. The phone equipment years ago used LOTS more electricity than it does now. Old equipment was electro-mechanical. Todays equipment has no moving parts and is totally electronic and fiber optic based... so the power consumption of it is going down slightly every year. I have tried to add a picture to this post. I am pretty sure it will upload. It shows a very SMALL phone office. The yellow lines are fiber optic cables. The blueish racks of equipment are mostly high-capacity routers etc that route thousands of phone calls with no moving parts (no relays).


Hello framistan,

Thanks for your time.

You say that the equipment is always using electricity but if I do two google searches (Please see my answer above, bold type) will it actually create an extra kettle's worth of CO2 or not?

Kind regards 


+1. It isn't just your computer. It's all the amplifiers and routers and domain name registries and intermediate computers between the two points. Not to mention the receiving computer. Of course if you're going to measure it this way, you have to measure the cost of shipping the data any other way by including all the costs that went into manufacturing the media it's shipped on and the paper/box wrapped around that media and the cost of moving it from point to point. But those costs are generally better amortized in physical shipping. "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a freight train full of disk drives."

Note that this means spammers are wasting a gawdawful amount of electricity, as well as wasting bandwidth and storage and time.

Thank you for all your answers.

I wasn't suggesting that I believed that my computer alone was using that energy; I just can't believe that the supporting system does.

Before asking my question I googled and found an article in the Times which said,

"performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle"

Whatever the amount, none of you disagree with the fact that the drivel we look at and write on the internet seems to create more CO2 that most people are aware of.

I just find it incredible that I can sit here googling around all day, at no extra cost to myself, creating a lot more CO2 than I would like to.....It's only my failure to actually believe this on an intuitive level that allows me to carry on.

.  Hmmmm Surely he is talking about including an attachment, but just for fun:
.  Assuming six characters per word (five letters* plus a space), 1048576 = M (1024 * 1024), and 10 bits per character (eight for data and two for overhead), that's about 83886 (4.8 * 1048576 / 10 / 6)  words. If that was supposed to be MB instead of Mb, multiply by eight.
.  I know I've never sent an e-mail that long. Heck, I've never written anything that long. ;)

*Many claim 4.5, but I like integers

.  But, to answer your question after that brief interruption: click here

Yes, the original story was assuming an attachment. A megabyte of text is roughly novel-sized.