I just came across a blog post from last May by Rolf Kersten about your CO2 footprint when using the internet. I was particularly intrigued by his estimate of the amount of carbon produced by Google at 6.8 grams per search.
A while ago the 'news' went around that Google could supposedly cut the energy consumption of millions of monitors by changing their website background to black. It turned out only to be true for old CRT monitors, and a bit silly all in all. But I sometimes do a couple of hundred Google searches a day, nevermind the other web-based services I use that are off consuming power on my behalf, and Rolf's post reminded me about an idea I had that I think could really work.
What if Google replaced the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button with one that said "I'm Feeling Patient" instead, and then waited for a convenient moment to perform my search instead of performing it instantly? Would they (could they) reduce the number of servers needed for search if they did that? And will there ever be a point where increased efficiency doesn't get used up by doing more instead of being used as an opportunity to cut back?
I know Gavin Bell has been thinking about these ideas too, wondering how to measure the energy consumption of web services in general, including the effects of mod_gzip on the power consumption of nosy routers that inspect packets at every hop. I wonder about the environmental cost of indexing all those mailing lists I leave archived and unread in my GMail.
Clearly some of these things pale into insignificance when compared with the environmental impact of air travel, long commutes, badly insulated homes, old power grids, etc. but I wonder if they start to be worth thinking about at a company operating on Google's scale.
The Guardian News Blog has a post about the estimated energy consumption of a Second Life avatar. Further to my previous post about Carbon-Adjusted Computation, can I give out a call for all web service providers running computers on my behalf to provide these kinds of stats? It's really important that these things are visible.
Update: there's an insightful comment from fred2 on the Guardian blog post that in my opinion provides a better estimate, roughly a third of the first one. The point here isn't the actual numbers, it's that we're thinking about the numbers at all.
Jon Udell at InfoWorld is thinking about the carbon-adjusted supply-chain, using a hypothetical dual-pricing scenario for Amazon. At Euro Foo I attended a session hosted by Claus Dahl on prototyping using Second Life, and we discussed the possibility of a heads-up display to show the computational cost of various processes in the world, perhaps in kWh or even tonnes of carbon.
Right now we're in an "out of sight, out of mind" phase of thinking about the cost of our computing, but the amount of computer power being put to work behind the scenes is staggering. In July of this year, the New York Times reported that Google was likely to be the fourth largest server manufacturer in the world. Can Yahoo or Microsoft be far behind?
I currently subscribe to a large amount of mailing lists with my GMail account, mainly for the convenience of searching them later. But what if Google told me that indexing all that email I don't read was adding up to significant environmental cost? What if Linden Labs told you the energy consumption of all your Second Life possessions? Tom Coates recently looked at the possibility of monitoring home energy usage, but I think we need to approach this from all angles. Never mind unplugging my appliances when I don't need them, I wonder how many servers in data centres across the world are carrying out needless processing on my behalf - what's the carbon footprint of my web-enabled world?
With it's vast geo-thermal energy surplus, Iceland is set to abandon any last dependencies on oil. This begs the question - what other dependencies does Iceland have?
Given an inevitable distopian Mad Max/Waterworld type future, then what things should Iceland be stock-piling now? Could they grow enough food? Should they be hoarding electrical components, battery acid, pipes for steam power, or are they doomed like the rest of us?
Come the apocalypse, nations/regions will play to their strengths - will places like Iceland become impenetrable fortresses of power, winning the energy wars by situation and living the 20th century's sustainable-unsustainable lifestyle against all the odds?
On the other hand, Phil Gyford sensed a "seductive illusion of self-sufficiency" about the Falklands in his recent trip. Would Fortress Iceland be like that? Is energy enough?