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The Energy Demand of ICT: A Historical Perspective and Current Methodological Challenges

Part of the Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing book series (AISC,volume 310)

Abstract

This chapter provides an overview of energy demand issues in the field of ICT with a focus on the history of measuring, modelling and regulating ICT electricity consumption and the resulting methodological challenges. While the energy efficiency of ICT hardware has been dramatically improving and will continue to improve for some decades, the overall energy used for ICT is still increasing. The growing demand for ICT devices and services outpaces the efficiency gains of individual devices. Worldwide per capita ICT electricity consumption exceeded 100 kWh/year in 2007 (a value which roughly doubles if entertainment equipment is included) and is further increasing. Methodological challenges include issues of data collection and modelling ICT devices and services, assessing the entire life cycle of ICT devices and infrastructures, accounting for embedded ICT, and assessing the effect of software on ICT energy consumption.

Keywords

  • ICT energy consumption
  • ICT life cycle
  • Energy policy
  • Regulation
  • Standby power
  • Energy conversion
  • Green ICT
  • Green software

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For most technologies, the reduction in the energy needed per unit of delivered service) is on the order of a few percent per year. For lighting, the reduction rate since the candle and the gas light of 200 years ago until today’s LED has been about 3.2 % per year; the reduction rates of household appliances in Switzerland between 1970 and 2000 were between 2.7 % per year for electric ovens and 5.9 % per year for freezers. For ICT, the mean improvement rate (CAGR) between 1950 and 2010 of the specific energy consumption (measured in kWh/computation) was much higher: between 36 and 39 % per year [2], corresponding roughly to a reduction by a factor of 100 in 10 years.

  2. 2.

    Net energy savings are usually defined as the savings enabled by ICT (compared to a baseline) minus the energy used by ICT. There is no general rule for defining the baseline, which makes “net energy savings” a somewhat arbitrary concept. See also [32].

  3. 3.

    This metric is defined on the level of final energy and does not include energy carriers other than electricity.

  4. 4.

    Formerly the Carbon Reduction Commitment, which is part of the UK government activities seeking to cut carbon emissions by 80 % of 1990 levels by 2050.

  5. 5.

    Roth et al. [39] do not include entertainment electronics. The corresponding data points (denoted by “TIAX_IT”) are therefore not directly comparable with the other data.

  6. 6.

    0.8 MWh per year and capita is a relatively small fraction of the total electricity used in industrialized countries, but in many developing countries this would exceed the total consumption [42].

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Aebischer, B., Hilty, L.M. (2015). The Energy Demand of ICT: A Historical Perspective and Current Methodological Challenges. In: Hilty, L., Aebischer, B. (eds) ICT Innovations for Sustainability. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, vol 310. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-09228-7_4

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