29/07/2022 Katrick Technologies Ltd
Why your social media habits could be harming the planet
The internet is an essential part of modern everyday life. We go online for everything from work, to shopping, to communicating — and social media makes up an estimated 35 per cent of this activity. Though posing for selfies isn’t damaging to the environment, the energy consumption and carbon emissions from charging devices, powering the internet, and running data centres can be colossal. In this article, Vijay Madlani, co-CEO of green energy ground breaker Katrick Technologies, discusses the impacts of social media on our planet.
As of 2022, a staggering 4.62 billion people use social media in one form or another. That’s over half of the world’s population. Moreover, of the estimated seven hours each day that the average person uses the internet, the largest proportion of this is made up of social media, at an estimated 35 per cent, or two hours and 27 minutes. Hands up if you’re guilty too!
Even the smallest action on social media, such as liking a post, sending a message, posting a photo or even simply scrolling through a feed, produces small amounts of carbon. Instagram, one of the most popular social media platforms, emits 1.5g of CO2 per minute of scrolling and posting a photo emits 0.15g. Even in the 28 minutes a day that the average Instagram user browses the app, this would result in at least 42g of CO2 on this platform alone.
Each of Facebook’s 2.9 billion active users is estimated to produce 12g of CO2 annually, and on Twitter, sending a single tweet is thought to emit roughly 0.02g — a relatively low figure, until you consider that the 50 million tweets sent out daily across the globe would produce one metric tonne of CO2.
The biggest offender is TikTok – its popularity has skyrocketed since its launch in 2016, with an estimated one billion active users. Just one minute of scrolling through TikTok videos emits 2.63g of CO2. Even five minutes a day on TikTok would add up to roughly 4800g of CO2 a year per user, which is the equivalent to the emissions released by driving over 21 miles in a car. The true figure is likely much higher, with the average user browsing the app for 95 minutes a day.
Though the emissions produced by small actions on an individual scale may not seem that significant, when we account for users’ overall social media use it adds up considerably. Combining this with other activity such as browsing the internet, streaming video, downloading music or sending emails highlights that our internet use may be harmful to the environment.
But how does using social media actually produce emissions? Social media relies on the exchange of large amounts of data — data which needs to be securely and reliably stored.
One of the most effective ways of storing data like this is through data centres. The 2021 Data Center Real Estate Review by North American Data Centres showed that Meta, TikTok and Twitter account for the 11 largest multitenant data centre leases in 2021 in North America. Meta is also in the process of constructing an additional seven million square feet of data centre space in the USA and an additional new centre in Spain, alongside existing centres in Ireland and Sweden. TikTok is set to open its first European data centre later in 2022, and Google currently has 23 worldwide.
Data centres worldwide consume just under 200 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy and produce around the same amount of carbon emissions as the global aviation industry at just over two per cent. This energy is used in running the servers and hardware themselves, but also in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, lighting, security and other operational factors.
One of the most significant factors in data centre energy consumption is cooling. Most data centres need to be run at a consistent stable temperature of around 21 – 24°C. Above these temperatures there are risks to server performance and reliability, with an increased chance of overheating and failure. As servers produce a large amount of heat, keeping the surrounding environment cool to ensure optimum working temperatures is crucial.
With the scale of many data centres, keeping them cool is no mean feat. Many current systems rely on air cooling, using air conditioning systems to circulate cool air into the centre to keep the servers at a suitable temperature. Newer systems use liquid, either by bringing fluid directly into the server components, or even by immersing the servers entirely in liquid. Not only can cooling systems be expensive to implement, powering them requires significant amounts of energy. 90 per cent of the air conditioning and air handling units used by the UK data centre market consume between 26 and 41 per cent of the total energy.
There are also new innovations, like passive cooling systems that use waste heat produced by data centre servers to power a Thermal Vibration Bell (TVB). This example is a unique patented system from Katrick Technologies, which uses bi-fluids to convert heat to fluid vibrations which turn into mechanical oscillations when they hit protruding fins. These fins passively dissipate the unwanted hear to provide the required ambient temperatures for servers to run. Initial trials conducted at UK-based data centre provider iomart indicate that the system can reduce the energy used for cooling a data centre by 70 per cent, which would reduce an operational carbon footprint significantly.
Finding alternative ways to cool data centres is crucial to support the world’s relentless appetite for social media. As such, innovation in this sector is more important than ever.
Internet usage has increased an estimated 15-20 per cent since 2019, and will inevitably continue to underpin many important aspects of modern life. Though social media has revolutionised communications and made our planet more connected — and yielded an endless stream of catchy TikTok dances — it is important we understand the environmental consequences of these habits and how to counteract them.
To find out more about Katrick Technologies, visit the website here.
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