The "C" in ICT is Driving Global Energy Consumption

We launched Vertatique with the statistic that data centers consumes ~2% of global electricity production. We now know that the globe's broader ICT energy footprint is ~8%, the majority of which is NOT from data centers. The contribution of communications, driven by explosion of cloud computing and mobile devices, has helped drive the number higher. Here are the facts and figures.

Planning Energy Efficient and Eco-Sustainable Facilities: A Case Study of Telecommunications Networks is a project at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh-USA) which "...examines alternative energy viability and energy consumption for facilities while focusing on telecommunication structures as a case study." Amy Nagengast of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department's Green Design Institute shared with me a couple of papers produced by that project.

The project's 2010 paper "Planning Energy-Efficient and Eco-Sustainable Telecommunications Networks" pulled together some enlightening data about telecommunications facilities, which fall under our definition of ICT Core. "An average traditional central office [CO] requires approximately 1,500kW of power..." (We calculate, using the paper's energy breakdown, that the average 2010 CO's PUE was ~2.4, typical of the PUE of many small and medium data centers in 2012.) By contrast, "A typical three- sector legacy code division multiple access (CDMA) base station [has] a 5kW overall power load..." COs in 2014 likely consume less energy as more legacy analog equipment is replaced by digital microelectronics and each CO's total subscriber base is eroded by wireless and VOIP. Despite this, and even if multiple base stations are required to cover a single CO service area, wireless appears to be the more energy-efficient local service option. This is could be even truer today because newer wireless technologies consume less energy -- see GSM energy consumption below.

An April 2013 report from the Center for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications (CEET) cites the explosive growth on one communications sector -- wireless connectivity to cloud services. "Our energy calculations show that by 2015, wireless cloud will consume up to 43 TWh, compared to only 9.2 TWh in 2012, an increase of 460%...Up to 90% of this consumption is attributable to wireless access network technologies, data centres account for only 9%."

Cardiff University's Center for High Frequency Engineering reports that "...a typical GSM base station will require a total of 1780 Watts of input power. Only 540 Watts of this actually makes it out to the antenna, with a whopping 900 Watts being dissipated as heat by the PA alone! So, a typical GSM base station can optimistically have an operational efficiency of 25%. This situation gets much worse however when we consider modern communications systems such as 3G, WiMax, etc - a typical 3G base station efficiency will be in the region of 1% to 5%, with an energy requirement [of] some 3kW. This equates to an annual base station energy cost of nearly ¬2.5k and an annual carbon footprint of 11 tones...It is therefore clear that even small increases in PA efficiency can translate to huge savings in running costs and henced reduced carbon emissions in base stations."

What is the result of this inefficiency? A paper presented by Vodafone at WPMC 2008 observes, "The base stations themselves often have a share of over 80% of the electricity consumed by an operator’s mobile network."

Mobile and wireless communications are exploding in the developing world, where energy supplies, particularly sustainable ones, are at a premium. This is one of the the compelling reasons why ICT4D must embrace Green ICT.

Click on the "comm" tag, above, to learn more about Green Telecom, Networking and Broadcasting.