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Keywords:

  • industrial ecology;
  • information and;
  • communications technology (ICT);
  • Internet;
  • life cycle assessment (LCA);
  • Monte Carlo simulation;
  • online publishing

Summary

In this study, we use an improved, more accurate model to analyze the energy footprint of content downloaded from a major online newspaper by means of various combinations of user devices and access networks. Our results indicate that previous analyses based on average figures for laptops or desktop personal computers predict national and global energy consumption values that are unrealistically high. Additionally, we identify the components that contribute most of the total energy consumption during the use stage of the life cycle of digital services. We find that, depending on the type of user device and access network employed, the data center where the news content originates consumes between 4% and 48% of the total energy consumption when news articles are read and between 2% and 11% when video content is viewed. Similarly, we find that user devices consume between 7% and 90% and 0.7% and 78% for articles and video content, respectively, depending on the type of user device and access network that is employed. Though increasing awareness of the energy consumption by data centers is justified, an analysis of our results shows that for individual users of the online newspaper we studied, energy use by user devices and the third-generation (3G) mobile network are usually bigger contributors to the service footprint than the datacenters. Analysis of our results also shows that data transfer of video content has a significant energy use on the 3G mobile network, but less so elsewhere. Hence, a strategy of reducing the resolution of video would reduce the energy footprint for individual users who are using mobile devices to access content by the 3G network.