NEWS: Computing Power Play

Science  23 Feb 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5508, pp. 1453
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5508.1453b

Good news for Californians: You may be able to keep pecking away at the keyboard without feeling guilty about the energy crisis. A new study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California estimates that computer and Internet use is sucking up much less power than some have claimed.

In 1999, Mark Mills stoked up the debate with a study done for a group, the Greening Earth Society, that believes carbon dioxide emissions are good for human welfare. Mills asserted, among other things, that every time someone orders a book from Amazon.com, the transaction burns up the equivalent of about 225 grams of coal. He said the Internet accounts for about 8% of U.S. power use, and that “1 billion PCs on the World Wide Web”—as predicted by Intel for 2004—would create a global electricity demand equal to total current U.S. consumption.*

The Environmental Protection Agency asked the Berkeley lab to evaluate Mills's claims. So a group headed by Jonathan Koomey of the Energy End-Use Forecasting Group has produced an estimate of energy use by all U.S. computerized office equipment.** The total, they aver—and that includes non-Internet activity—would be no more than 74 terawatt-hours per year, or 2% of total U.S. electricity use. They also say, in an unpublished paper, that Mills's estimate of a typical PC's power consumption of 1000 watts is way overboard: The reality is closer to 150 watts.

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