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The Shocking Amount of Energy Used to Stream Gangnam Style

Simon Ponsford Founder and CSO

YellowDog’s CTO, Simon takes a look at the energy consumption of Gangnam Style, the latest viral video to take the world by storm.

Viral Videos Clock Up Billions of Views

Videos often go viral with many millions of views, an example is the Gangnam Style video which, as of 22nd June 2016, had clocked up an amazing 2.6 billion views. You need to make some assumptions to calculate the overall energy consumption of this (which can lead to a variation in the estimate by a factor of 100), but the reality is that a phenomenal amount of energy is consumed by video clips that are viewed millions of times.

The starting point for the calculation is the revelation by Google in 2011 (who own YouTube) that streaming 1 minute of video consumes 0.0002 kWh of energy. You then need to take into account energy consumed in the last leg of the data transmission which is low for Internet wired devices, and much higher for wireless devices. Another factor is the resolution at which the video was viewed, the higher the resolution, the higher the energy demand, the split of mobile devices, PCs and laptop computers all of which have different power profiles and the length of time 4 minute and 13 second the video was viewed bearing in mind that many viewers will not watch the entire clip.

A Conservative Estimate of Energy Usage

My own very conservative estimate is that 3.1 GigaWatt hours (GWh) were consumed. Blogger, Josh Morgan feels the figure is closer to 4.8 GWh whereas the British Computer Society (BCS) estimate is closer to 312 GWh. To put this into context, in 2010 the average UK home consumed 4,600 kWh a year. If the BCS is right, then this equates to powering 67,826 UK homes for a year. Is this really a good use of our natural, and depleting, resources?

Computing has brought us many advantages, but today’s use for social media, messaging, games and video streaming may be considered by some to be frivolous use of energy. In 2013 The Register reported that ICT now consumes 10 per cent of the world’s electricity generation.  As an emitter of CO2, its emissions are now greater than the airline industry and are increasing every year.

It is not just consumers driving power demand for compute: many organisations have a rough idea of the power consumption of their computers within their business, but with the growth of cloud technologies, very few have any idea of their total impact when online backup, hosted CRM and email systems are taken into account. If you ask your cloud provider to give you details of the power consumption and CO2 impact of the services they provide to your business, most will have no idea where to start.

Changing the Data Industry

We need to start asking these difficult questions to see a change within the industry.

Traditionally, IT managers are selected based upon their technical and management skills with almost none having any formal training in energy management. This needs to change as we all take more responsibility for the carbon impact of our actions, both at home and in the workplace.

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