The hidden climate impact of the Internet of Things
October 15, 2019
It has been predicted that over 50 billion transmitting devices will be in circulation by 2020
Anything from smart kettles and fridges to cars and door bells will send data through our communication networks which could end up housed in storage somewhere.
A good majority of this accumulated data will ultimately end up as “data waste.” Whilst a lot of this data can be deleted, the resources that have created it will have been wasted.
The connected devices originating the data, the communication system directing the data, the computers processing the data and the data centres containing the data all use energy. The sum of the energy needed to run this whole data ecosystem is already causing a noticeable dent on existing power infrastructure across the globe. If ultimately, a substantial proportion of the data has no value, this energy consumption and its impact on power infrastructure is being wasted.
Although some global ITC and data companies such as Google have recently announced that a great percentage of their energy use is to be sourced from renewables, this does not account for the external data movement and processing cooling need.
The entire data economy needs cooling from the computers processing data, to the power infrastructure driving it, to the data centres housing it.
This artificial cooling process is currently reliant on chemicals such as sulphur hexafluoride and hydroflurocarbons which are over 23,500 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.
Unmanaged, these chemicals have serious implications for climate change.
These issues are missing from discussions about the internet of things and the Smart City agenda because the scale of the problem has not been identified.
One bite (pun intended) of data from a smart toothbrush via Bluetooth is not itself going to break the emissions bank, but what about 50 billion devices transmitting data daily?
When dealing with climate change, context is everything. As we get closer to the roll out of 5G there is going to be an exponential shift in data creation that we currently have no real concept of.
Before this tech shift happens, the IT sector needs to put the impact of data creation into context in relation to climate change. This won’t be too dissimilar to lessons learnt in physical waste management.
This will kick start the urgently needed conversation around the data we need and the data that will be wasted.
Originally published by PBA, now Stantec.