Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How much energy does the Internet use?


How much electricity does the Internet need?
How much electricity does the Internet need?
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

In Shakespeare's day, sending a message to a person in another city was a big deal. You had to hire someone to carry the message for you. That person might have to walk or ride many miles to get to the destination. It could be a dangerous journey, particularly for Shakespearean messengers who seemed to have a survival rate of about 50 percent in the tragedies.

In Shakepeare's time, every message required a great deal of energy from the moment someone wrote it to the moment the recipient read it. But today, things are much more civilized. You can boot up a computer, tablet, smartphone or even video-game console and zap off a dozen messages in just a few minutes. Even better, the messages will arrive in the inbox belonging to the recipient nearly instantaneously. Look at all the effort we saved!

But when it comes to actual energy, the Internet is a hungry system. It's a network of networks and each network consists of computers. Those computers consume power and lots of it. But is there any way to know just how much electricity the Internet uses?

To estimate the energy usage of the Internet, we need to consider every component that connects to the system. There are billions of devices that make up the Internet. First, let's take a look at data centers.