The internet is responsible for nearly eight per cent of electricity consumption in Switzerland, and pollutes the environment as much as a million cars, according to a study commissioned by the Federal Environment Office.
Each year internet users in Switzerland consume about 4.6 terawatt hours, which is more than the entire output – about three terawatt hours - of the Mühleberg atomic power station near Bern.
Equipment that runs non-stop is responsible for much of the energy consumption: this includes routers and switches, which direct the flow of data, and also the cooling systems used by large companies. Greater energy efficiency, such as the use of fiber-optic cables rather than copper, would reduce the impact on the environment.
The study also calls for all IT equipment to be designed to last longer. The mining of the raw materials used to make computers and screens often leads to serious water and air pollution in the countries of origin, it points out.
It also recommends the replacement of desktop computers with laptops, which are much more environmentally friendly both in production and use.
The study sees two possibilities for the future. On the one hand, equipment may get smaller and more energy efficient, but on the other, an increase in the ways of accessing the web – such as by television or smartphones – is likely to push up consumption yet further.
“At the current time it is difficult to estimate which of these two contradictory trends is likely to win out,” the Environment Office says.
The Office commissioned the study from Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, to gauge the environmental impact of the internet at every stage from the production of the equipment to its disposal, in order to see how resources could be made more efficient and recycling improved.
swissinfo.ch and agencies