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Internet usage has a much larger impact on energy policy than many people think. In fact, if the Internet were a country, it would be the sixth largest user of energy in the world. As more of everyday life goes “online,” it is important that users understand where this energy comes from and how the companies that shape the Internet are working to power these sites with renewable energy.

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Making conscious decisions about which companies to support begins with understanding how these companies power their Internet activities. It is critical that users put pressure on popular Internet companies to move away from “dirty” fossil-fuel based energy sources and toward greener, cleaner methods of supporting web activity.

The Internet—A Hungry, Hungry Energy User

Many people are surprised to learn just how greedy the Internet is in terms of energy consumption. The average person tends to think of energy consumption for the Internet as beginning and ending at the laptop, desktop or tablet being used to access the web. In reality, however, data centers make up a large percentage of the energy consumption of the Internet as a whole.

Data storage, streaming and other services provided by data centers is not a temporary phenomenon. In the future, the demand for cloud-based storage, software as a service, data protection and Internet streaming for video will only increase – and with this increase in demand will come an increased need for clean, sustainable energy to power these processes. According to experts, by 2017 there will be a half a trillion kilowatt rise in energy consumption for web-based activities, primarily for streaming video. In fact, streaming video is predicted to account for 76 percent of Internet usage by 2018.

How Do The Big Companies Stack Up?

Companies like Facebook, Google and Apple claim that they are deploying renewable energy sources as they continue to expand, but it is important to understand how they are actually going about incorporating green energy into their plans. In some cases, their claims of using “100 percent renewable” power may not be as clear-cut as they seem.

One way to determine exactly how various companies score in the race to deploy green, renewable energy resources is to visit Greenpeace’s Click Clean report. According to the report, Apple leads the way in making progress toward the 100 percent renewable goal. However, other companies such as Amazon are less than transparent about their energy sources, leading to a lower score on the Click Clean report.

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The Threat of Dirty Energy Monopolies

But there is a reason that many companies are struggling to implement clean energy for their Internet activities. Not only is it extremely costly to make the switch completely if a company does not own all the necessary infrastructure, in some areas, there are large energy monopolies that actively work to stop the spread of green energy because their profits are based solely on fossil fuel consumption.

The burning of fossil fuels has been linked to both global warming and climate change, and according to Alberta Energy, the energy sector alone contributes about one fourth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly, cutting down on fossil fuel use is imperative, and large web service providers can take the lead in doing so. Apple’s use of solar and wind technology and Google’s commitment to clean energy are steps in the right direction, but other companies have a long way to go to become true green energy users.

There is no greater challenge than global climate change currently facing the world, and internet companies have not only the power to change the way they use energy, but the influence to alter the attitude surrounding the global warming crisis. It will ultimately be up to users though to put pressure on large Internet companies to fight the use of fossil fuels in powering technology systems, and turn to clean and sustainable practices. By becoming educated consumers, Internet users can truly effect a change in the way that large companies power their web processes and ultimately have a positive impact on the planet.

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