iPhone vs fridge – which has a higher electricity usage?

1MW in the world by Bronte Hogarth – 1MW International Correspondent

Does your iPhone, or more exactly your smartphone use more electricity than your fridge? That’s the claim from this new paper, that the average iPhone requires more power per year than your average refrigerator. It’s important to note, it’s not just the phone itself which does this: it’s the entire infrastructure that supplies it with the ability to be smart. The ‘wireless cloud’ including all those data centres running the WiFi and mobile networks are all part of the calculation.

In fact, the global digital economy, also known as the ICT system (information-communications-technologies), sucks up as much electricity today as it took to illuminate the entire planet in 1985.

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The claim is that IT now uses 10% of the world’s electricity.

So is it a myth?

There are those who insist this report has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.

Let’s look more closely at the discussion

The report comes from Mark Mills, CEO of the Digital Power Group, sponsored by the National Mining Association and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. (Which is partly the point of this report, to show that our global digital economy is hungry for coal! A depressing thought for environmentalists)

According to Mills

“An average iPhone uses about 361 kilowatt-hours each year after factoring wireless connections, data usage and battery charging. A medium-sized refrigerator with an Energy Star rating only uses about 322 KWh a year”.

It’s ironic as Smartphones and tablets don’t require a large amount of energy to charge, BUT if you watch just one hour of video each week for an entire year, this requires more total energy than two refrigerators.

What does this mean?

The true culprits aren’t the devices, but the stuff running them in the background that supports wireless connections, because these are always ON. Mills believes: “You will use the most energy watching the video, map or Facebook, or using Instagram from your smartphone outside of your home or office which, I dare say, is where most of the traffic occurs”. So it’s the digital economy’s ginormous power hungry energy footprint which is of the greatest concern.

The unfortunate thing is, most people are simply unaware of the environmental impact. Bryan Walsh points out in Time, the ICT system’s power hunger will keep growing as our devices become ever more powerful and ubiquitous. Walsh explains:

“The ICT system derives its value from the fact that it’s on all the time. From computer trading floors or massive data centers to your own iPhone, there is no break time, no off period. (I can’t be the only person who keeps his iPhone on at night for emergency calls because I no longer have a home phone.) That means a constant demand for reliable electricity”

As the cloud grows bigger and bigger, and we put more and more of our devices on wireless networks, we are going to need more and more electricity.

Sustainability and wireless-technology dependence

There is a growing movement that believes a more sustainable lifestyle goes hand-in-hand with an increase in wireless-technology.

“At a moment when young people are buying fewer cars and living in smaller spaces — reducing energy needs for transportation and heating/cooling — they’re buying more and more connected devices. Of course the electricity bill is going to go up”. Bryan Walsh

So we are at a cross-roads between sustainability and what we believe to be our most transformative technologies to date, because although you may be energy conscious in your daily habits without realising it you could be sucking up a whole lot of power.

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According to predictions, 1 billion people could be using the cloud by next year.

What’s the verdict

The report is clearly trying to show that coal is here, and that it’ll be powering much of the ICT infrastructure for decades to come. We all know however this is extremely questionable with so much research and advances happening in renewable energies. Renewable energy sources are a viable solution. It’s true that many new wireless-technologies are increasingly being used to help in sustainable models, and so research into making digital devices more efficient also needs to be invested in.

We are daughters, mothers, sisters and grandmothers getting on with practical climate action to live better for us and the planet. Join the movement at www.1millionwomen.com.au

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