Saturday, October 19, 2013

Godmorgon, Världen - Oljans roll i världen

Bra och relativt kort genomgång av oljekrisen som fyller fyrtio, samt lite nutidsanalys. Hur vi visserligen minskat vårt oljeberoende sedan krisen, men endast genom att plocka "de lågt hängande frukterna", dvs. främst elproduktionen. Transporten av folk och varor är en svårare nöt att knäcka. Av Lena Bejerot, ur förra veckans "Godmorgon, Världen!".

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fur or no fur?

Every day I take my bike to school, and every day I pass by Stureplan, where I every day have to stop at the red traffic light. Yesterday at this very traffic light I saw a lady in a long mink fur coat, which got me thinking.

I know that fur coats and leather jackets are banned by the animal rights activists, but what if you consider this from an environmental perspective? If mankind will continue to eat meat, which I am sure a lot of people will, and if you know that the fur or leather is made from 100% meat-bi-products, wouldn't it be more environmentally sustainable to wear leather jackets and fur coats rather than Gore-Tex jackets? I assume that the market value of mink meat is not that great, which would have to disqualify the lady’s mink fur coat from this particular discussion.   

What do you think, is it time to re-evaluate the fur coats?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


During this course I've read the book Kollaps: livet vid civilisationens slut (Collapse: Life at the end of civilisation) by David Jonstad ( It has proven to be a good companion during the course and has had a somewhat similar chronology. I would like to take this opportunity to give you a short summary and my views of this book.

The book begins by summing up what has lead us to the brink of collapse. As you might expect, this first part is about peak oil, peak everything and us picking the "low hanging fruits". At the same time this has created a ever increasing growth. These factors in turn lead to an unequal world where wealth is amassed in the rich part of the world and production is done in the poor part of the world. The equality issue together with the triple-E-crisis (energy, ecology, economy) can only result in one thing: collapse.

So, what do we know about collapse? Jonstad spends the second part of the book about the collapse of complex societies in history. The Roman empire and its emperors tackled every crisis by adding more complexity: more advanced administration and bureaucracy. The people involved in this administration, an emerging middle class, had to get their food from others by increased taxes and invasion of foregin territory. The increased flow of money forced the emperors to reduce the amount of precious metals in coins creating inflation. The "hordes of barbarians" had to be kept out by investing in a large army. Jonstad tells a similar story about the Mayan empire. We all know that these societies or civilisations collapsed and Jonstad argues that it was the ever-increasing complexity that is the reason.

So how might we make our society more resilient to a collapse? The third and last part of the book is about the future. Jonstad offers critique of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap) and argues that Sweden can't cope with more than two weeks without electricity on a regional level. The batteries and generators that keep the banks' databases going won't keep up that long. Sweden doesn't keep any food or water reserves that would last for long if the international distribution lines would be cut off. In short: we are not a resilient society. To be more resilient and more sustainable we need to increase our self-sustainability, both on local, regional and national levels.

So what do I feel after reading such a book? Well, I don't feel depressed and I don't feel like I've turned into a prepper. But I do feel that I would like to improve my possibilities of self-sustainability. It doesn't mean that I will turn my back on society and move to a bunker in Värmland. What I would like is to learn some skills that will make me and my family more resilient. I am planning to do some more serious growing at our cottage (kale seems like a good place to start). Also, I will do my best to avoid debts.

It was nice to read this book in parallel with the course as its content overlapped a lot. But I would still recommend it to anyone interested in sustainability. If you would like to read it you can borrow it from me (after Evert's done with it) so that we can prove that paper is still more sustainable than e-books... ;)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Follow-up on the "Blok"-based phone, is the idea something that can be achieved?

Nice post Zahra!
I have to say I Do like the idea and I thought that I would post my comment rather as a new post instead of a reply since it also adresses my personal concerns. 
As much as I think it would be nice to have a environmentally sustainable phone I'm still not really convinced that a "blok"-based phone is something that people would like to have. As much as we need to reverse the escalating trend in waste from thrown away phones, we first and foremost need to adress the mindset of the people consuming them, don't you think?

Even if we launch the idea of a "green" phone, do people want one? We can't take for granted people genuinely care about the environment. In the video he adresses very short that the waste is a problem, and it increases, but the rest of the promo is more about how nice it would be to have an upgradable phone, instead of focusing on letting the audience know Why we need it (i.e. less waste compared to an ordinary phone).

Since the increased demand from smartphones today are most likely because of the technological advancement in creating smaller and smaller components and better systems I think it is hard to propose an option to that development that contradicts that trend. The phone will most likely be bigger, heavier, and more "bulky". People who buy a smartphone are not prone to lean on these types of features: they want a sexy, slim and aerodynamically formed gadget that feels good in the hand. I can't image a "blok"-based phone appeal to that consumer. Therefore I think the bigger issue is to change the mindset of the people buying them. Buying a "green" car today can be "sexy", but it took years and years of good PR, what will it take for the phonemakers and the industry as a whole to succed in doing this?

Will it even work?

The economic divide

At Daniel Pargmans lecture concerning rebound effects, he talked about how convinience makes us travel more by car, train and airplane. He also said that as price goes down, consumption goes up, a rebound effect from better production efficiency in the industry. Well, this got me thinking about the economic divide, and its effects.

Some would argue that the economic divide is not sustainable from a social perspective. I fully agree and do not much care for a pure market economy where the rich will always get richer and the poor, poorer. (I need to state this clearly: I am a socialist, don't hang me for the following)

But on the other hand: Isn't it better to have this divide from an ecological perspective? As people get richer, their CO2 emissions rise. They can more easily afford to buy a car, a cellphone, a computer, etc., as the cost is lower relative to their income (similar to lower prices). More would have the option to go abroad during holidays and eat better food and more meat.

"But won't the rich do less than today, and even things out?", you might think.
Well, for that I want you to have a look at this video (6:24).
It explains how people in America think about how wealth is distributed, and what the real numbers in fact are.

 If you know the numbers, you will probably say something like:
"Well they (the rich) can only do so much, while the rest could do much more. Distributing that wealth would probably augment CO2 levels and the use of scarce materials immensely. We should probably continue as we were!"

Comments? Thoughts?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Heavy conscience and Ghost cities

By now, we've been to several lectures about sustainability and read many pages on the subject, from different perspectives. And we should all understand that oil is really bad, and dude, never get a car, because I already have one and it's not going to work out if you get one too.
It seems easy to forget that sustainable development is three dimensional. Some people think about the environment. Some about making money. A few might think about the society in which they live. However sustainability is about all of this, economics, ecology and society. Every change in one of them will somehow affect the other two. It is easy to understand that, without our planet, there will be no economy and no people. But we must not forget about the other parts as well, for it is the economy that drives us selfish humans and our society forward.

As a Swede living in Stockholm, I somehow feel that my impact on the environment is of little importance. Let me explain what I mean by talking about cities, how we live and how we transport ourselves around in them.

USA - They started it

The American suburbs are a good starting point for our trip. Because of the cheap oil for fuel, cities were designed with residential suburbs with large comfortable houses, far away from the office buildings in the city.

Even though Qatar is in first place 2013, the USA is (beaten by Australia in 2009) still in the top 12 when it comes to CO2 per capita. Does it really matter though? If we look at emissions per country instead, it is only second to China.

The United States has huge unpaid bills coming due for its infrastructure. There are plenty of pot holes to fill. Considering the national debt and high costs of investments in infrastructure, it seems unlikely that the US government would in any near future encourage a scrapping of highways in favor for public transportation like high speed trains. We shouldn't forget that the New York City Subway is the world's largest rapid transit though, however I don't see any new upcoming investments for the long distances. And who pays the bill for the current infrastructure then? Probably private-sector capital and revenue sources like tolls.

When I think about the future of America, I can't help to think about the post apocalyptic settings from the game Fallout 3. Somehow, they've done their part in history.

Sweden - Development hibernation

Stockholm. I feel like time is standing still. Sure, there is always some small development going on. But if we compare this city to other places in the world, nothing much is really happening regarding construction work of infrastructure and buildings.
It is estimated that the population growth in Stockholm will be about 20,000 people per year (figures vary from starting below 10,000 up to 30,000) . Still, in my opinion, the city lacks adequate development planning for future residential areas and communication.
In the 1940's, there were grand plans for the city. satellite towns were built and along with them came more infrastructure.  

The first metro line in Stockholm opened in 1950, and the latest in 1975.
Last time a large road was constructed was in 1966 when the Essingeleden  road was inaugurated. Since then, not much has happened regarding road or rail constructions in Stockholm, with the exception of a small addition called the Southern Link in 2004 and the the Tvärbanan tram in 2000. There are also plans on another major road Förbifart Stockholm, but the completion of that is at least 8 years away from now.
From the ecological perspective, lack of development is probably a good thing. With hope to stir up a discussion, I would argue that this has been bad for the economical and social development of the city of Stockholm.

However, just as I like to lighten my conscience about the environment by comparing myself and my home city to other places I find far worse regarding emissions and sustainable development, It is easy to understand that there are a number of aware people in the US with a heavy conscience for their wasteful culture. Maybe that's why the idea of Tiny Homes has been conceived, a compact living concept.
In Sweden we've have the concept Friggebod for a while. It's basically a small house that can be built without any special building permit. Most commonly used as a guest house or storage. It is rather out of context, I just mention it as a comparison to the Tiny Homes idea. Or maybe I chose the Friggebod as an unconscious comparison as to how insignificant we are as a nation in the global sustainability issue.  Anyway, here's an example of a Friggebod if you don't know what it is.

A housing trend has apparently hit America. They call it Tiny Homes. Check out the video and listen to Jay Shafer's talk about American housing.
Will this idea attract enough people to matter at all?

There is a consensus among national governments in favour of densely populated cities as a way to improve the ecological performance of the transport system. This is considered  true because the commuting length becomes shorter if homes and businesses are located in tall buildings close to each other. However as land rents in the city centre rise, people move to suburbs and in return this generates more pollution from transportation. And the concept of compact living and urbanization leads us on to talk about what is going on in China.

China - Focus on GDP growth

In the past 30 years, China's urban population has increased to 700 million from less than 200 million. The aim is to have 60% of the 1.4 billion population as urban residents by 2020.
Some of China's economical goals for 2013:

  • GDP 7.5%
  • Add more than 9 million urban jobs (Like Sweden's total population)
  • Keep registered urban unemployment rate at or below 4.6%

To reach these goals, the government is constructing whole new cities to speed up urbanization. And the strangest thing of it all, estimated figures say that there might be as many as 64 million empty apartments as a result of this construction boom! The problem is that the people that are supposed to move there, don't have the money to do so.

After having watched this video, perhaps your focus will be somewhere else as well. Do you think this development can be considered sustainable from an environmental, social or in the long run economical perspective? What can we do about this?

If you feel that you don't have enough to read already, you could have a look at this interesting article about how China's focus is on GDP growth and not climate change. It also mentions China's Climate Change Policy.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Phonebloks - the future for a longer lasting phone?

I somehow came across this video that caught my attention. It's a video that proposes an idea of how we can stop wasting electronic devices so much (and so often), and more specifically in this video how to keep your mobile phone last longer – with a new kind of phone that is made of detachable blocks.

When mobile phones are continuously being developed with more and yet more advanced features and sold in the market, sooner or later you will come to a point where you realize that your still two-year-old phone is already considered ancient. This will often lead you to the decision to go ahead and throw away your already Stone Aged phone to buy a new, modern, better, faster, thinner phone. And here is where the idea in the video comes in.

Instead of getting rid of the whole phone just to replace one or two certain components, how about actually buying those two new components and building them into your phone yourself? They call all these different components in a phone for “blocks”, thus naming the phone “Phonebloks”. Whenever you want to upgrade something, you can just pull that block out from the back of your phone and replace it with the newer one. The rest of the phone usually works fine except for just that one thing, be it the camera or the storage space that you want upgraded. This way, you would save the environment from wasting the whole phone and instead just throw away one small piece of it. This solution would lead to much less mobile phone waste.

How or whether this idea would actually work in reality is not clear, but it sure is a clever and interesting idea in my opinion. You can customize the phone with whatever “blocks” (components) you want, so I see great potential for it to be successful. Some user comments state that this can't work technically while others are more positive. I don't think it's impossible since we have invented and developed a lot of things today that in the past was considered “not or probably not possible”. Think of the upcoming curved phones, for instance. This idea of a phone is brought up with the environment in mind. I think the development of technology and technical devices should work more towards this mindset and promote the environmentally-friendly aspects of the new devices, rather than solely focus on the new features.

The video promoting the idea is 2:47 minutes long. You can watch it here:

Friday, October 4, 2013

Feedapp won the Green Awards

I just got a mail [in Swedish] from a student who took the course last year. With her permission, I share it with you.


Hej Daniel,

Jag hoppas att allt är bra med dig! 

Jag vet inte om du kommer ihåg men när vi hade kursen Hållbarhet och Medieteknik H12 skulle vi komma på ett sätt att hjälpa samhället på en av seminarier.
Min ide (se bifogade fil) handlade om att ha app som hjälper människor att hitta varor som har kort bästföredatum i matbutiker som ligger i närheten. Jag ville bara meddela att de iden finns som app, men den är inte skapad av mig :-(

Appen heter Feedapp och den vann Green Awards i år! ( Synd att jag inte utvecklade appen själv eftersom jag tyckte att det borde hade funkat!!

Jag tyckte att det skulle vara roligt att dela detta med dig


Connie Huanca
Master HCI-Student

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The energy footprint of online avatars


Are virtual worlds environmentally sustainable? Based on such thoughts, Nicholas Carr wrote a blog post some time ago, in December 2006, about how much power we use when we use virtual worlds. It provoked strong reactions, not the least because the title of his text was "Avatars consume as much electricity as Brazilians". Still years and years laters, texts (such as this one :-) about avatars, eletricity, climate impact and Brazilians show up like a jack-in-the-box. I will here go through Nick’s line of reasoning and the criticism he encountered before I go on and analyze the ways in which we can think about these issues. It would be nice to eventually come around and write about the power consumption and carbon footprint of PCs and data centers. Computer servers consume one percent or so of the world electricity supply. That might not sound like much, but their power consumption grows by 15-20% per year (which is equivalent to a fivefold increase in 10 years). 

At the time when Nick Carr posted is question, the virtual world Second Life was visited by somewhere between 10 000 and 15 000 avatars at any one time. To run it all, no less than 4000 servers were required. In the absence of actual figures as to the electricity consumption of the company that runs Second Life - Linden Lab - Nick made a few assumptions: 
- Each server in Linden Lab’s data center burns through 200 watts and then uses an additional 50 watts to cool the data center. 
- Every home computer that is connected to Second Life uses 120 watts. 

This would mean that the 4 000 servers in question use (4 000 servers) x (250 watts) x (24 hours) = 24 000 kWh (kilowatt hours) each day. Additionally, the power consumption of all home computers is (12 500 PCs on average) x (120 watts) x (24 hours) = 36 000 kWh each day. Altogether these computers and servers would thus use 60 000 kWh per day and if we divide this electricity consumption between 12 500 avatars, each of them would use 4.8 kWh for each 24 hours of existence in the game/virtual world Second Life. 

How much is 4.8 kWh per day then? Well, it adds up over the days and months and becomes 1750 kWh per year which is comparable with the electricity consumption per capita in Brazil (according to the 2003 data that Nick had access to).

In the ensuing discussion, Nick was quickly corrected by a person who was employed by Linden Lab. Previously, each computer server ran a "region" in the game but now, a server may run up to four "regions". The correct figures for Linden Lab’s electricity consumption is therefore (1 000 servers) x (225 watts) x (24 hours) = 5 400 kWh per day - that is, less than 1/4 of the original estimate (which, however was based on a fuzzy statement by the CEO of Linden Lab). The new figures gives that an avatar consumes approximately 1 200 kWh per year instead of 1 750 kWh, and that Linden Lab’s servers account for a relatively small part of that power consumption while the home computers account for more than 85% of the total power consumption. 

Almost six months later (May 2007), Nick is once more corrected when a new, better-informed (?) employee from Linden Lab presents new figures. To begin with, the average number of avatars are now 30 000, and the number of servers has risen to 2 000. In addition, both servers and home PCs draw significantly more power when the run Second Life. Now, Linden Lab’s power consumption is instead (2 000 servers) x (500 watts) x (24 hours) = 24 000 kWh. The rule of thumb is that for every watt that a server uses, the same amount of energy is needed to cool the data center where the server is housed. Power consumption at home is estimated to be (30 000 computers) x (250 watts) x (24 hours) = 180 000 kWh per day. In total, these 204 000 kWh divided into 30 000 avatars becomes 6.8 kWh per day. That is equivalent to 2 500 kWh per year and the home computer accounts for almost 90% of the total power consumption. Latvia, Romania and Argentina are a few countries that had a power consumption in the neighborhood of 2 500 kWh per capita in 2005. In Sweden, we used more than 15 000 kWh per person in 2005.

Taking all of this conflict (and constantly changing) information into account, what conculsions can be drawn so far?

- The Internet changes constantly. To get current figures is like chasing a moving target. What are the figures for Second Life right now? According to the latest figures (Jan 2010) there are currently 18 million accounts (avatars) registered in Second Life, but only 750 000 of them (5%) log in to Second Life each month. These avatars spent a total of 118 million hours (!) in Second Life during the third quarter of 2009.

- Information about the number of servers and their power consumption varies widely and therefore seems not be that reliable (see above). Power consumption can obviously not have been one of the heavier costs when running virtual worlds - or they would have kept better track of the figures. The same has probably been true also for other companies that rely on data centers such as Google, Flickr, Blizzard etc., but things might be changing now as the energy prices have been marching upwards during the last couple of years.

- A computer at work uses 120-150 watts, but a computer that runs Second Life (or World of Warcraft or any other computer games) can use up to twice as much power as these applications make use of your computer's capabilities to the max. Data center use a lot of power, but you home computer that utilizes these services draw a lot more and get less work (computer cycles) done per unit of energy used.

- It is difficult to determine the usefulness (or damage) of using virtual worlds. On the one hand, you use a lot less energy (and generate considerably less pollution) if you cancel a trip and instead meet in a virtual world. But a computer uses a lot of electricity - if the option is an electricity-free activity (take a walk, talk to a neighbor, help your children do their homework). 

- Ideas are hard to kill. Although Nick’s figures were refuted and modified immediately, the "meme" about Second Life and the electricity consumption of Brazilians remains alive and pops up now and then to the chagrin of some.

The main objections raised against Nick’s argument above was that no real person is connected to Second Life 24 hours a day and that Second Life actually had 700 000 "active user" (whatever that means) at the time. So the power consumption of each person who used Second Life would have been just a 50th of Nick’s original calculation. Furthermore, any computer that is used for 24 hours a day 365 days per year uses more energy than the average Brazilians whatever that computer is used for (playing Second Life or doing something entirely different). 

Both ways of looking at this problem is correct, but these different perspectives choses to focus on slightly different things. Any individual physical person who plays Second Life did that for less than an hour a day on average and thus uses a moderate amount of energy. But each avatar in Second Life has the same (or higher) power consumption (per hour, per day or per year) as many people on earth have. 

I think Nicholas perspective is interesting, not the least because some information technology pundits sometimes tend to completely ignore that computers are physical objects that have required resources (raw materials, energy) for their manufacture, that consume electricity throughout their lifetime, and that one day will be scrapped/recycled. Computers obviously have an ecological footprint and the size of that footprint should naturally be explored further.


The energy footprint of Google searches

I like Google. Slowly, step by step, I have started to use more and more services from Google. It started with searches, then continued with Gmail, Google Earth and a number of other applications and services (including Blogger, which was bought by Google in 2003 and which provides the technical platform for this blog).

I have found almost all the services I have tried useful (for myself or at least for someone else), but it is now time to scrutinize Google through the lenses of my peak oil glasses. Even if I primarily write about Google in the text that follows, “Google” could mean any business competing with Google, or even the entire Internet with all the services it provides to us in our daily lives.

In the beginning of this year, the young Harvard physicist Alex Wissner-Gross claimed that Google searches contribute significantly to CO2 emissions. The angle that the newspaper chose was that two Google searches produce the same amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide emissions) as boiling a kettle of water for a cup of tea, and that Google searches thus have “a definite environmental impact”. More specifically, Wissner-Gross claimed that one Google search generates around 7 grams of CO2 emissions. The carbon dioxide originates from producing electricity to run your computer and to run Google’s data centers. A few grams of CO2 may not sound like much if not for the fact that the number of Google searches each day exceeds two hundred million searches, and may be closer to one billion according to some sources

Wissner-Gross further claimed that the architecture of Google’s search engines was an important factor as each Google search is distributed to several data centers across the world that then compete against each other to find and return the fastest answer. What you gain in speed thus comes at a cost of higher energy consumption caused by all the extra computer capacity (unused, misused or redundant) built into the larger system.

To no one's surprise, Google rejected this interpretation and stated that the company is ”among the most efficient of all internet search providers” because their data centers are relatively energy efficient compared to "average" data centers. Google furthermore claimed that the number 7 grams CO2 per search is ”many times too high” and that the true numbers are 0,0003 kWh of energy and 0,2 grams of CO2 emissions per search. This small amount of energy is in parity with the energy burned by the human body in 10 seconds, and the CO2 emissions are thousands of times lower than the CO2 emissions caused by the average car traveling only a few kilometers. Another powerful formulation from Google is that “In the time it takes to do a Google search, your personal computer will likely use more energy than we will use to answer your query”.

Another comparison is with the numbers from this report (pdf) which claims that each spam mail ending up in your mail box on average generates 0,3 grams of CO2 emissions (the same amount as if you drive your car 1 meter). Since the number of spam e-mails sent during 2008 was approximately 62 000 000 000 000 (62 trillions), the total amount of CO2 emissions caused by spam is not insignificant and more precisely corresponds with the amount of CO2 emitted by a car driving around the world 1,6 million times. If we assume that there are about 800 million cars on Earth, then all the spam sent during 2008 corresponds to the accumulated CO2 emissions from all the world’s cars driving 80 kilometers each. I am not sure whether this is much or little in a big-picture perspective, but I have no problems being judgmental and deeming spam e-mails 100% unnecessary, and now for yet another reason. Where are the technological and social solutions to stop them`

I saw a reference in January 2008 stating that a "bizarre" record was broken one day in October the preceeding year (2007). During that one day, more than 160 000 million spam e-mails - roughly two dozen per man, woman and child on Earth - were sent. Comparing this number with the total number of spam e-mails send during 2008 (see above), we find that the record from 2007 is actually lower than the daily average of spam e-mails sent during 2008...

Other experts who have made claims about the energy use of (Google) searches state that CO2 emissions are between 1 and 10 grams (depending on whether you have to turn on your computer first), or between 7 and 10 grams (if you use your computer for 15 minutes). The Times of London, which published the original article (above), informed its readers a few days later that the newspaper accepted Google's official claim that one (simple) search (taking less than a second) produces only 0.2 grams of CO2, and that the "search" refererred to in the article involved several attempts over a teme period of several minutes. In a clarification by the physicist Wissner- Gross, he states that he never mentioned Google specifically, that the example with the kettle of water was not of his origin, and, between the lines, that the newspaper made a hen out of a feather based on the interview with him.

Maybe the number 7 grams of CO2 emissions per search originally came from this blog (May 2007)? We should anyway probably take Google's numbers with a pinch of salt since the company probably counts only the marginal cost of performing one extra search, and not the nergy cost for temporarily inactive servers, support and maintenance, and the distributet and thus reduntand work being done in several data centers for each search. Also, the idea that badly written inefficient software code wastes electricity and thus has a bigger ecological footpring than neat code is thought-provoking (although I do not mean to imply that this is a problem for Google).

The "news" about Google searches and kettles of water quickly spread to several newspapers, but seem to have been a storm in a teacup when viewed in the read mirror. So let us step back and think about the larger issues that this text touches upon. Using computers has an environmental impact. What we read and look at when we use our computers is stored on many servers that are all connected by computer networks. All of these parts require electricity (personal computers the most, servers and data centers the least, and computer networks in-between).

The electricity that we use for these purposes is generated mainly from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas (85% of the energy consumed on Earth is produced from fossil fuels). when Google states that each search generates 0.2 gram of CO2 emissions, they surely count only the energy costs for their enormous-but-highly-efficient data centers, whereas the big energy thief is right in front of your nose - your own computer at home or at work. The use of a personal computer may cause CO2 emissions of somewhere between 40 and 80 grams of CO2 per hour, and if you include this energy consumption it is easy to reach 7 gram of CO2 for an advanced search that constitutes of several steps.

As I wrote in the beginning of this text, "Google" could in this context represent something much bigger than the company itself and it is somehow difficult to understand why exactly Google was singled out for its energy consumption. In general, Google should be acknowledged for their energy policies and for their lobbying in Washington for cleaner energy sources. A few searches on the Internet (there we go again :-) reveal several examples of interesting and good inititatives from Google, like their report "Clean energy 2030 and their work on RE<C (renewable energy less than coal), where the goal is to produce renewable energy cheaper than electricity generated by coal plants. According to Google, the company's data centers use only half as much energy as the average data centers.

The global IT sector is responsible for 2% of the global CO2 emissions (according to the firm Gartner Inc.). It may not sound much, but it is as much as the global airline industry emits, and in contrast to an airline industry in crisis, the IT sector is growing rapidly on a global basis. Many actors consider numbers about energy use business secrets, and for exampe Google does not want to tell how many or how big their data centers are, or how many servers they own.

Google clims that using their search engine on the larger whole saves money and natural resources, since a Google search replaces more energy demanding activities - we no longer have to use as many car trips, time, paper or ink to have our questions answered. This is a valid argument, but it assumes that we are doing more or less the same things (the same number of searches) as before, but now in a more resource-efficient way. But we obviously did not perform a hundred million searches per day before Google and other search engines existed. Furthermore, we burn energy by doing a lot of new things with our computers which could not be done easily - or at all - before:

We may be obsessive about turning off the lights when we leave a room, but at the same time we may happily spend hours clicking around online, oblivious of the electricity lighting up our screen, heating our chip, and powering ad cooling the data centers we're connected to. (It's true that in some cases Internet use may substitute for other activities, such as travel, that would consume more energy, but let's not kid ourselves: the vast majority of computer and Internet use represents additional energy consumption.) How many Twitterheads think about their electricity use before they tweet? Not many. How many blogger think about it before they blog? Not this one.

More interesting than to examine Google in particular is to think about the energy cost of computer use in general. Alex Wissner-Gross (again) has calculated that each second of watching a web page generates 0.02 grams of CO2 emissions. This applies to "static" website content - if you watch animations or video, that number quickly becomes ten times higher. The rule of thumb is of course that the more you use a computer, the more energy you consume, and some activities (playing computer games, watching movies) are more energy intensive than others (reading a document, working with a word processor). Regarding the energy consumption of avatars, I wrote the following almost one year ago:

It is difficult to determine the benefit (or damage) of using virtual worlds. On the one hand you use considerably less energy (and generate a lot less in terms of CO2 emissions) if you cancel a trip and set up a meeting in a virtual world. A computer on the other hand uses a lot of electricity compared to non-electricity-consuming activites (go for a walk, talk with a friend, help your children with their homework).

To play World of Warcraft several hours a day can hardly be described as an activity which "replaces traveling". It is more probable that playing such a game for a long time increases the chance that you will make new (faraway) friends whom you would later like to visit (sometimes by hopping on an intercontinental flight). I am here walking on a minefield of trying to differentiate between "good" and "bad" uses of computers and the Internet. I prefer to avoid this particular discussion at this particular point in time, but might return to the issue later. We can at least for sure state that computers and galloping use of electricity may be problematic in the long run - a characteristic shared by all types of exponential development: "If not addressed, unlimited, ever-increasing compute performance will ultimately consume all the energy on the planet".

I think it is definitely legitimate to critically investigate the energy consumption and CO2 footprint of using for example YouTube, Twitter and virtual worlds. Even without approaching the issue in a normative manner (making claims about "good" or "bad" use), one may thus find clues as to which activities could become painfully expensive if the electricity and energy prices will rise and keep on rising in the future. According to a vice president at Sun Microsystems, it is totally clear that "We need more data centes, we need more servers. Each server burns more watts than the previous generation and each watt costs more".

Something to further take into account are proportions. A person who uses a computer one hour per day (40 to 80 grams of CO2 emissions per day) generates emissions somewhere in the range of 15 to 30 kilos per year. A hardcore computer user who uses his/her computer 10 hours per day thus generates something between 150 to 300 kilos of CO2 per year. Is this a lot? Driving an average car 1000 km/620 miles (a single round trip between Stockholm and Gothenburg) generates approximately 200 kilos of CO2. This by no means absolves us from caring about the energy use of computers, but it hints at the fact that the potential of reducing CO2 emissions in the computer/IT sector is - for now - limited compared to the potential of reducing our energy use by changing our habits of travelling.

Friday, September 27, 2013

CO2 emissions per country and per capita

I would like to share an image I came across while trying to research for my "great idea"-project.
This image shows the difference of carbon emissions calculated by country (on the left), and carbon emission per capita per nation (on the right) . If you would like to study this in more details, you can find the original image here:

I think this really illustrates that we in Sweden (for instance) can think of ourselves as very small emitters compared to the giants of the world, but if we compare to what we use per person we are still not the worst, but there is room for lots of improvement (compare with China).

I also came across this youtube clip that does a great job visualizing how much carbon dioxide is emitted from a city (in this case New York). It is quite a lot, and this goes on all the time....

Feedback on the use of this blog


I'd just like to say that the quality of the blog posts this far has been high, but the only problem is that there are too few of them!

May I suggest that some of you might want to reuse the texts you handed in for this week's seminar and reformulate them into blog posts. If you discussed your idea at the seminar yesterday, you might then also want to update your contributions taking yesterday's discussion into account.

Johan B just did that and he set the bar very high - you don't have to be quite as ambitious as he was to gain mine and Elina's approval!


Thursday, September 26, 2013

A “Software Energy Footprint” (SEF) standard for measuring and comparing software energy effectiveness

Hi there!
Here I will present and further elaborate on my idea for the second seminar, explaining the background and argue the feasibility of implementing a standard for measuring energy effectiveness of software. The text is made up of my initial thoughts, extended with what was discussed on the seminar and also combined with a few elaborations.

A “Software Energy Footprint” (SEF) standard for measuring and comparing software energy effectiveness

The worldwide energy consumption of networks, personal computers and data centers has grown from 4% in 2007 to 4,7% in 2012, not taking into account the use and recharging of mobile phones and tablets (Overview of ICT energy consumption, 2013). This increased amount of energy demand as a result of ICT usage will become a challenge in a future with less abundant energy resources.

As we are still highly dependent on the use of non-renewable fossil fuel for extracting energy, there is a strong relation between carbon emission and energy consumption. Attempts to place focus on carbon emission has for example been made in the food industry, by introducing certain certifications such as “Svenskt Sigill” and “KRAV”. For a food product to be eligible for such a certificate, the producer has to reach certain criteria regarding how the food is produced. A more general form of these certifications is the so-called “Product Carbon Footprint” or “PCF” for short. The overall purpose of these different ways of labeling products as more or less “eco-friendly” is to enforce the consumer into making better (or “greener”) decisions and thus pushing the producers into improving their production methods etc. A known difficulty in measuring such a PCF is that it is hard to accurately analyze every step of the product lifetime and production.

In the context of ICT hardware there exists similar certifications such as “Energy Star” that promote energy efficient ICT products and the likes. A Swedish example is "TCO" which prompts hardware producers to take both a social and environmental responsibility. Although this is all well, the promoting energy effectiveness of ICT software is not as prevalent.

My proposal/idea is to try implementing an energy efficiency standard for ICT software, to further improve software energy effectiveness in the future. While some areas within software development do take energy effectiveness into account, the reasons are often not based on making a smaller PCF or being more sustainable. Take mobile and web development as examples. Making energy efficient and optimized software for mobile platforms (smartphones and tablets) is a critical factor in achieving user satisfaction. If the application drains the battery life of your phone in a few minutes, no one will use the application. Similarly, if a web page is way to large (in terms of downloaded source code) resulting in slow loading times, then users will not want to visit the page.

The case is different if we take a look at stationary computers, such as PCs and servers. Plugged into the wall-socket, we do not have the same energy-use constraints as for mobile devices. Thus energy efficient software will not emerge as a “natural” requirement in such a context and energy efficiency may instead be traded for even greater processing power/computations. As we are currently moving closer and closer towards a “future in the cloud”, where most of the heavy lifting (computations requiring much processing power) is done remotely on a plugged-in server, the need and incentive for developing energy efficiency software might even be decreasing.

There has been, and currently are, a few projects looking at the possibilities to accurately measure energy consumption in relation to software. One research project measured and compared the energy use of loading different web sites using different web browsers by connecting sensors to various hardware components (SEFLab: A Lab for Measuring Software Energy Footprints, 2013). They were able to detect significant variations in energy usage, indicating the importance of software design. One of the greatest challenges in measuring the energy use is that different hardware components act in different ways and that the distribution of computations may vary.

Two other projects attempt to bypass this issue using software-based measurements and by modeling the hardware in a virtual machine. This way, the energy use of software can be monitored on a process-level. The Microsoft “Joulemeter” and “PowerAPI” would enable custom software energy benchmarking in order to place a certain software on a standardized “Software Energy Footprint” (SEF) scale. Software developers would then be able to certify their software and/or get a SEF rating from a trusted source performing such benchmarking, indicating that the software is written in a sustainable manner. A high SEF-rating and a certificate would hopefully encourage consumers to prefer these products, both in terms of making a responsible choice and getting software that (at least for mobile computers and devices) will increase the battery lifetime. Such a certificate/rating could easily be added to appstores, both for the mobile and the PC market. An increased focus on developing and using energy efficient software might be able to somewhat reduce both out ICT energy needs and ICT energy consumption in the future.

There is of course a variance in average energy consumption between different categories of software. It would for example be quite meaningless to compare the energy effectiveness of say the game "Minesweeper" and the game "Battlefied 4", or comparing "Microsoft Word" and the clustered processes behind "NCBI Blast". Thus one would need to define various categories that then could be more realistically benchmarked against (for example comparing different browsers against one another, Microsoft Word vs. Open Office etc.).

As I see it, there are a few positive drivers that could enforce an increased focus on software energy efficiency. For example, utilizing the open source community would be a great way of circulating energy efficient code. Energy efficient code snippets and solutions could easily be shared (and iteratively improved) across the Internet. Calling upon the "hacker spirit" (mentioned in Zapico, J. (2013). The hacker ethic, openness and sustainability), an internal driving force for developing good software already exists.

Speaking of "hackers", Green Hackathons could be arranged with energy efficient software development in focus. A goal could be to solve a specific task in the most energy efficient way possible.

Another good (and very much practical) idea would be to integrate energy efficiency benchmarking in the compiler (I believe it was Mårten Cederman who pointed this out). Similar functionality exist already in IDE's such as Apple's Xcode, which has the ability to monitor resources such as CPU and present this graphically to the developer in real-time. Still, there is no way of knowing how much energy that is used. A energy-usage monitor integrated in the compiler would serve as a must-have tool for developers trying to optimize the energy effectiveness of their algorithms and solutions.

Taking on the economical perspective (or "lens"), a more thought-through development process will likely take more time, increasing the cost for such "green" software in terms of time and money. Nevertheless, considering enterprise applications that might be deployed for one or several years, the reduced cost in energy as a result of more energy efficient software would probably dwarf the initial increase in cost for the software. Thus there could be economical benefits for both developers and consumers.

Now, this became quite like what is usually described as "big wall of text" but I hope someone found it interesting. It would be fun to hear if anyone has got any ideas for further elaborating the proposal or perhaps find more challenges in making this real! =)


Lannoo, Bart, Lambert, Sofie et. al. 2013. Overview of ICT energy consumption, FP7-288021, The EINS Consortium, Network of Excellence in Internet Science

Klimatmärkning av livsmedel, presented in januari 2010.

Ferreira, Miguel A. et. al., SEFLab: A Lab for Measuring Software Energy Footprints

SEFLab, website:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Can musicians spread knowledge and interest regarding the climate issue?


Yesterday's Agenda (22/9) on svt2 showed a final piece abut the climate issue and that the global interest regarding climate issues unfortunately has cooled.

 Some people are in the belief that new measures need to be taken in order to make the climate issue a hot topic again and that this could be done through musicians and bands spreading the message through their music.

I thought this was a very interesting perspective as music is a good way to reach a large part of the world as music is considered a globally understood communication method. It is also a good tool when reaching the younger generation, who really should be aware/caring about the future of our earth, the most.

Just like Bono in U2 is well known for his music, he is equally well known for his activeness in philanthropic work. I definitely think that using musicians and other prominent figures, which can influence a large number of the population, is a good marketing strategy for getting the topic of climate issues spinning again. Some may even discuss if it’s in the duty of public figures to set an example when it comes to environmental issues in the same way as they are expected to act as role models in other areas of behavior.

If you’re interested, the report regarding the climate begins at 33.55 in the following clip!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Soot - The warm blanket that makes the mountains sweat

Oh… so I got your attention? Great! Well I recently read an article published by NASA in which they summarized a conclusion they've come to draw when it comes to glacier retreat. By studying old and really old (ancient) cores of ice throughout history, before the industrial revolution and beyond, they actually found some interesting trends:

1) The coal emitted from big industrial factories all over the world of course polluted the air with coal particles - aka soot. These particles then spread with the winds and some of it landed in the cold, snowy parts of the world: the alps.

Bernese Alps 2012
Since black carbon is very sunlight-absorbing it can actually absorb quite a lot of heat in contrast to snow who deflects sunlight pretty good. The findings of black carbon was confirmed in the extracted ice cores and NASA scientist then actually concluded that the glaciers in the European alps had begun to melt more rapidly just because of it being covered with a black carbon blanket (so to speak). Maybe not that visible to the naked eye, but highly effective to the mean temperature on the snowy surface, thus effectively melting the ice away. Oops.

2) The main point here is that the industrial revolution is an anthropogenic factor to the risen mean temperature of the earth but it doesn't mainly come from the actual increase in mean temperature but rather from the carbon particles lying in the snow absorbing sunlight heating it up to melting degrees.

I'm posting this article since all this leads me to believe that we are one step closer to realizing our available options to actually make this climate issue a bit more bearable. By knowing what is causing our glaciers to melt (which is a serious issue) we can take stronger and more concrete measures to actually make a real difference. Since I find it highly unlikely that the mean temperature will drop in the nearest future, it feels good to know that the "end of glaciers" as we know it doesn't Only depend on that fact.

Additionally I think this article is highly relevant to this course since it shines new light upon the issue with the climate and what drivers are contributing to the glaciers melting. We all have talked about the carbon dioxide and its effect on the ozone. But in contrast to that discussion, this article actually redirect some of the "blame" to other factors than just an increase in global mean temperature.

What can we do to investigate this issue further? What is the next step? Is it possible to filter out the carbon emissions more effectively to halt this "carbon blanket"?

What are your hopes/reflections on this discovery?

Original article: HERE

- Image is borrowed from the original article

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mon 23 webinar "How ICT is driving a sustainable future"

This is probably not supposed to be for students, but since it's on Monday and they sent a reminder to me... Last day to register is on Friday and you register here.

If you attend, please report back - preferably through a blog post here!


Reminder- GeSI Webinar  

Towards a SMARTer 2020 - How ICT is driving a sustainable future       

23rd September 2013  
17:00 - 18:00  CET    
Join us for the webinar 'Towards a SMARTer 2020 - How ICT is driving a sustainable future' on Monday 23rd September 2013 at 17:00-18:00 CET. 

Launched in 2012, the Smarter 2020 report highlighted that the use of ICT could save 9.1GtCO2e of harmful greenhouse gases from being emitted worldwide. The study identified GHG abatement potential from ICT-enabled solutions across six sectors of the economy including power, transportation, manufacturing, consumer and service, agriculture, and buildings.  

Since the launch of the Smarter 2020 report, GeSI members have been developing these enablement solutions and working to reduce emissions in their operations and those of their partners and customers.  

This webinar will showcase a number of GeSI members' carbon emission reduction initiatives to date, including the use of ICT technology to enable customers to measure and reduce their emissions, fleet fuel efficiency improvements, energy management systems and smart metering.

  • Introduction - Alice Prudhoe, GeSI 
  • Case Study 1: Building on SMARTer2020 - BT's Net Good 3:1 vision and goal - Gabrielle Giner, BT 
  • Case Study 2: KPN 1-2-1 program & energy savings calculator - Marga Blom, KPN 
  • Case Study 3: How machine-to-machine technology delivers fleet fuel efficiency - Chris Lloyd, Verizon 
  • Case Study 4: How ALU machine-to-machine technology supports smart grids and enables new energy efficiency services - Katrina Destree-Cochran, Alcatel-Lucent
  • Case Study 5: Smart metering in Australia - Matilda Gennvi Gustafsson, Ericsson 
  • Questions 

Space is limited. Please register here until 20th September 2013.
Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI)
p: +32 2 282 8442

About GeSI
The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) is a strategic partnership of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector and organisations committed to creating and promoting technologies and practices that foster economic, environmental and social sustainability. For more information, see

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The story of stuff

I guess I will be making the first contribution (or not) to this blog. Took me some time to find how to post but now finally I located where to do it!

However. I've been interested in garbage for some time after doing a project together with some friend here at KTH in another course: Prescense architecture. During that project I encountered a video on youtube which spured an insterest in why we produce so much garbage in western society. This video explains in a really simple way where products come from and touches on the subject on why it is not sustainable to continue living as consumerists in such a way as we have become accustomed to. As I said, this video spured an interest, and I hope that you will also find it interesting too.

The video can be found HERE

By the way, this is the second time writing this post. My neighborhood suffered a power out where even the water pressure dropped considerably. This happened just after watching the video that Pargman linked on his post on the course blog. It really freaked me out, felt like the future had already come, ha ha! I can really recommend it for those of you who haven't yet seen it.