Energy efficiency is a topic that’s becoming more and more important as the digital economy evolves. As a variety of electronic devices become part of our daily lives, it’s easy to be oblivious to the amount of energy it takes to run, charge and store all our information.
From sending a message to making a phone call, the data and energy we use on our phones, laptops and other electronic devices adds up, especially if we consider the number of people in the world doing the exact same thing at all hours of the day. We also send a number of emails every day, but how often do we stop to think about how much energy it takes to send one, when we consider all the different elements involved?
There’s a considerable amount of research available online that attempts to quantify the amount of energy used by electronic devices. According to The Guardian, an email sent with an attachment has been estimated to use the equivalent of 50g of carbon dioxide. If we consider the number of emails we send every day, and then multiply this by the number of people who we work with, this can add up to a concerning amount of carbon dioxide and energy use per day.
Other sources estimate that a 10KB email uses up to 0.074 microwatts of electricity, and a 500KB email up to 3.7 microwatts. Although this might not seem like a lot per email, considering that this does not take into account the electricity used by routers, networks and data centers for storage, the actual energy usage per email is likely to be considerably higher.
With all the information and research available, it is still very difficult to pinpoint the exact amount of energy every email uses, as it depends on the device used. Another issue is that with the millions of emails sent all over the world every day, it can be difficult to identify the source of the energy powering every email being sent. Data centers, which store emails and other digital information from all over the world run 24 hours per day, and have been estimated to use up to 1,500 terawatts of electricity per year, which at one point was 10% of global electricity consumption. This figure obviously increases daily as the global population grows, more devices are used, and devices process information more rapidly and therefore require more power to operate.
Large corporations like Google, which need to store emails for millions of people around the world, claim to be carbon efficient, with 35% of their energy consumption powered by renewable energy sources. However, if one considers the mindboggling amount of email being generated every second, and the electricity it takes to store all of these in your inbox and other folders, it’s clear that email can use a considerable amount of electricity as a default communication tool.
If we put this into perspective, every single email contributes to a growing need for electricity, and this increases every day as new emails are created and more data centers need to be built to store an ever-growing amount of digital information. Although many of us take the ability to send an email for granted, when we really consider the overall environmental impact of our inboxes, it might be time to re-consider our relationship with email, and think about the electricity consumption you’re about to use every time you type a subject line.