The Web Runs on Electricity and We’re Running Out

by Dorian Peters

20 Reader Comments

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  1. Great post, I could not agree more. I wrote about this from a coding standpoint last year. Optimize your code, save the environment. Obviously your article is much more refined and researched, but I thought I was the only one that gave it any thought!
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  2. I do not agree. There is more than enough power or energy / electricity in this world for everyone. And saving energy through so called energy optimized code is even more of a pipe dream.  Are you really going to measure every for-next, while-next or if-then construction to see how many femto watts it will save, if any? And also after every software update or patch from windows or your favorite compiler?
    No. Just switch your computer or any device off during the night or when not in use will save more energy than can be achieved though energy optimized programming.
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  3. Interesting take on this subject…I do think we can conserve all the time. We all know that somewhere in the world some doesn’t have something…food, water, electricity…
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  4. The only way to figure out if “there is enough power for everyone” is to do an analysis. It is not just power, but the impact of generating and using that power on the environment. That’s how sustainability differs from Web Performance Optimization (WPO). There are lots of numbers on this, so we can look at the facts. James Christie has another article on this site that gives some ballpark computations as a precursor to a full LCA analysis. I have some links at http://www.plyojump.com to sites with numbers and calculations. The major effect of JavaScript is not necessarily code execution - it is multiple HTTP requests caused via big, heavy frameworks that do a lot of server polling, as documented by Steve Souders at Google for years. The inefficiencies are even more pronounced in mobile - the device is low-power, but the huge network of cell towers is not. The equivalent of an HTTP request in the cell network is even more energy-intensive than it is on desktops. The number of HTTP requests is being driven up by designers who don’t know much about the back-end. They design sites without considering the final product - probably like the Hummer designers created a car considering many things but not its impact on the environment. So, lots of sites are really “hummer websites.”  I have a list from a year or so ago at http://sustainablevirtualdesign.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/green-design-vs-sustainable-web-design-some-data-2/ The irony is that the typical designer often acts as if they were “green” in lifestyle, but they design as if design was “weightless.” The web’s current contribution is a few percent but will grow as more and more products and services are “virtualized.” It seems likely that less developed parts of the world will preferentially adopt web-based solutions, since they reduce the demand for physical infrastructure. So, in the future, the micro-efficiency of code and poor design will have macro effects. There will be the equivalent of “green” web design patterns, just as there are “green” physical products replacing less efficient ones.  
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  5. @Pete: “...it is multiple HTTP requests caused via big, heavy frameworks that do a lot of server polling…” Wow. Show your biases much? Just a couple of things. Many “frameworks” like jQuery are available via CDNs from Google or MS. Used by many, it’s likely that they’re already cached on your computer, or if requested, served from the edge of the network. And many JavaScript HTTP requests are not polled, but issued when the user performs some action. The result (JSON, XML) is much “lighter” than the alternative: a complete page download or reload. Third, cell-based requests have a higher energy footprint, true. But the code served to those devices also has a much lighter footprint than does the often multi-megabyte code, images, and resources served to the desktop. Fourth, the “cell” impact is reduced more and more these days, as more and more homes, restaurants, and places of business offer WiFi connections, allowing mobile devices to route lighter weight mobile requests across traditional networks and backbones.
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  6. Thought provoking! Software makers always on the lookout on the latest cool technology tend to forget about the rest of the world things are not moving at that fast pace. building efficient digital experience even for those is the way to go
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  7. Turn off notifications on all your mobile devices. Use airplane mode. Disable images in email. It’s a bit akin to the traditional green debates - I drive I Prius, I cycle to reduce my footprint. You can make your site as small as you like, doesn’t stop the fact that the majority of wasted energy comes from heat dissipation throughout the network.
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  8. I agree with @moosenl: You’d save more power by turning off the computer at night. Don’t misunderstand—I’m all for saving energy and the costs associated with it, but this article allows the pendulum to swing too far out of balance. There’s a big glowing orb in the sky, and we’ll always be able to harness that. If all of us in the web development and design realm truly, deeply cared about saving the environment, we wouldn’t be reading this article right now. Amish, anyone?
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  9. Very interesting read! However, so much of what we do as web professionals is about attracting visitors and converting customers with the budget to buy our clients’ products or sign up for their services. And by “attract”, I really mean “entertain” or “distract”. With that in mind, how do we balance sustainability with the need to win clients and put food on the table?
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  10. Interesting article; sustainability is definitely an elephant in the room for digital workers. But don’t forget stuff like embodied energy and resource usage too. No one I know in this industry is comfortable with the mining industry; most see it and manufacturing as “dirty”. Yet most upgrade their hardware long, long before its utility is even reduced.
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  11. I have had my webbers hosted with Canvas Dreams for a little over eighteen months and am okay with that. AISO would be a good choice too
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  12. A timely and prescient article as many, if not most people, reflexively assume, based on little more than their personal experience, such fantastical notions as, “...There is more than enough power or energy / electricity in this world for everyone….”, and “...There’s a big glowing orb in the sky, and we’ll always be able to harness that.” Fortunately, wiser heads see that we are facing a serious predicament as fossil fuel resources continue to diminish and deplete and the renewable resource infrastructure they make possible begins to falter, crumble and fade. Without fossil fuels you have no solar panels, nor wind farms, nor even dams to generate the massive amounts of electricity needed to power the grid, let alone the internet. However, as wisely suggested here, careful planning and reasonable use (including many of the methods noted in this article and comments) will ensure a better life for all as we slide down the (hopefully) long-slope of Hubbert’s curve to the new future that awaits us. Assumptions that the power will continue without interruption are just that, assumptions and, I would argue, unfounded ones at that. Progress is NOT a religion that will “save us”, even if you believe in it fervently.
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  13. The topic touched upon is really interesting..But if we talk about limited resources, there will be always not enough of them for everyone..
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  14. Fully agree! It’s just a pleasure for my mind to read such articles..!)
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  15. No one has mentioned using dark backgrounds in their designs.
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  16. @Johandesilva Absolutely! I think the web obsession with white backgrounds comes from word processors. The computing world is getting away from paper and “black ink on white paper,” so we don’t need #FFFFFF anymore. It’s bad for/hurts your eyes too. Another thing that needs to be said: When non-computer-obsessed types are given “less robust” tools to upload images from their multi-megapixel cameras, I often see huge images squished into small spaces. The default way HTML deals with image sizing is resource-intensive (like squishing a 3000x5000 image into a 300x500 space without producing a thumbnail). There should be server software to correct this. All of this said, it’s more important to convince people to start driving bikes. ._.
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  17. A point on the phone charging issue - I’m about to buy a hand-crank phone charger for £12 ($18) for those long train journeys where I’ve forgotten to pre-charge and happen to be on a train without plug sockets. Or just in the middle of nowhere with no power. Seems like something that would be a good candidate for a OLPC-style campaign…
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  18. @Johandesilva Agree!
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  19. Hey Dorian and thank you. I do not know all the mentioned names, companies and I did certainly not click all the links and read all the pages in your article, but even so, as a designer in the making, I feel different know. You gave me a new perspective. I am a pretty modern hippie to start with, so I’m already not buying useless stuff and the concept of using everything to its full potential is already something I live by, but now I feel a responsibility in my work to do it also. Not just as a person. I havent pushed people into thinking the same way, because they get angry. Like as if I am trying to put myself above them and insult them for using plastic stuff once then just tossing it out. Even though that is stupid is hell, I dont tell them that, instead I politely question their decisions. (at least I do my best to be polite. Perhaps I fail a lot all the time.) Point is, they feel accused and I end up a pretentious bitch. But now, If I take the conversation from a professional point of view, I can get away with it. So good news everybody, the bitch is back. And I wish to share with you, what I shared of you with others: http://sannakdesign.se/2013/10/13/no-power-no-web/
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  20. I don’t agree at all.
    Turn off your laptop/pc/modem when not used will save you more energy and hours of analysis of opportunities.
    Thinking about backward compability?? bullshit. why do bother for 1% of ppl who uses ie5?? I’m going to say sure we need to turn off pc at night and use sprites instead of many http requests but other things are inefficient and the article is about efficient.
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