I wrote a while ago about how little power an iPad actually draws (in the context of looking a charging 1000 of them in a school environment). It turns out that they don’t use much. But the story doesn’t end there.
In the wider context of a World where we’re burning coal to make power, it turns out that our various electronic devices are leading to a lot of long-dead trees being turned into planet-warming smoke. A recently released paper claims that the infrastructure required to make your phone smart means that the phone uses more power than a fridge annually. The report argues that the global digital economy sucks up as much electricity today as it took to illuminate the entire planet in 1985.
The problem is all those servers and telecoms towers and routers required to give your device both ubiquitous access and virtually limitless depths of information. Think about asking Siri something on your iPhone (I know nobody does that, but it’s a good example): Your voice is captured by the phone and transmitted around the world to a server which sits waiting to process your voice into text, work out what to do with it and then transmits information back to your phone. All that transmitting and processing is what’s sucking up the power. So your phone is just the tip of a power iceberg.
In a global sense the depth of this as a problem is probably defined by the power-sources that run the infrastructure, with at least some server-farms running from clean energy sources. There must also be some balancing savings from all that easy access. I wonder what the relative overall footprint of my downloaded daily newspaper is compared to having the old paper one delivered? I’m going to guess that the electronic version is the better one.
Hmmm… maybe I should ask Siri….