How much electricity does the Internet use?

St. The server room at Pölten University of Applied Sciences is loud and windy. Cooling units are running at full speed. Because data processing generates heat, and it has to go somewhere. Servers work more efficiently at room temperature.

Cooling servers are a part of the Internet that use a lot of electricity, explains Alexander Atrowitzer. St. Curriculum Director for Digital Innovation and Research at Pölten University of Applied Sciences is currently researching how to make the online world more energy efficient. Because the Internet is currently “future-proof,” as Atrowitcher calls it.

Artificial intelligence is experiencing a hype and everyone wants to work with AI. But artificial intelligence is one of the most powerful applications of the Internet available today.

AI's slow learning process

Artificial intelligence can recognize patterns in large amounts of data – and more on how AI is already shaping our daily lives (noe.ORF.at; March 25, 2024). This requires a lot of “learning material” before the AI ​​can perform actions independently.

“A young child sees a picture of a cat one time, and the next he knows: it's a cat. AI needs tens of thousands of images of cats,” explains Atrowitzer: “This training, this recognition of these images, even at different levels and resolutions, requires a lot of energy.”

Astrowitcher is currently researching AI training in an energy-saving manner. A team at St Paul's University of Applied Sciences is looking at how the algorithms that train AI can be made more efficient. “At some point we're not going to end up there and we're going to run out of electricity.”

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ORF/Tobias Meyer

One of the three server rooms at St. Bolton University of Applied Sciences, ventilation and air conditioning are the biggest power consumers here.

One hour of gaming equals 35 hours of light

Apart from AI, gaming is also one of the major consumers on the Internet. “Especially powerful devices used for computer games are energy intensive,” says Atrowitcher, especially when multiple screens and a powerful graphics card are used.

On the other hand, search queries on the Internet are less important. “For example, if you look at all the global Google queries made in one day, you'll roughly have the electricity consumption of St. Bolton,” says Atrowitzer. E-mail traffic is also minimal as power consumption is relatively optimal. “You can send email with confidence,” says the expert.

It's the same on social media, where you can confidently send pictures and videos, says Atrowitzer. Additionally, social media is primarily delivered with smartphones, which, in terms of power consumption, are better than PCs. “You can send a lot of cat pictures or cat videos safely,” says the expert.

Mountains are suitable as server locations

If you want to save energy on the Internet, Atrowitcher recommends using AI tools. “In many cases you can do routine things to prevent environmental harm.” Additionally, most of the energy can be saved by optimizing the location of the servers. “Sweden in particular, for example, has large server centers that can be cooled naturally to a certain extent,” says Atrowitzer.

The northern parts of the world have a location advantage here, but the mountains in Austria are also suitable. “For example, server centers are built in abandoned bunkers, which have the advantage of being protected from external influences,” explains Atrowitzer.

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