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Climate: Cut carbon, stream your movies online

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Study finds that online movie viewing is more energy efficient

Staff Report

FRISCO —All those trips to the video store and Red Box, and all the fossil fuel used to manufacture and transport DVDs and CDs added up to more than 4 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions that could have been avoided (in 2011) if all media were simply streamed online, scientists concluded after taking a close look at the carbon budget of the entertainment business.

The study, published May 29 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, says more energy efficient electronic devices have tipped the balance toward online consumption of movies and music. A significant proportion of the energy consumption and carbon emissions for streaming comes from the transmission of data, which increases drastically when more complex, high-definition content is streamed.

In their study, the researchers, from Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory and Northwestern University, estimated that if all DVD viewing in the US was shifted to streaming services in 2011, around 2 billion kg of CO2 emissions could have been avoided and around 30 petajoules (PJ) of energy saved—the equivalent of the amount of electricity needed to meet the demands of 200,000 US households.

They estimated that in 2011, 192 PJ of energy was used, and 10.4 billion kg of CO2 emitted, for all methods of DVD consumption and streaming in the US.

From this, they calculated that one hour of video streaming requires 7.9 megajoules (MJ) of energy, compared to as much as 12 MJ for traditional DVD viewing, and emits 0.4 kg of CO2, compared to as much as 0.71 kg of CO2 for DVD viewing.

To arrive at their results, the researchers compared video streaming with four different types of DVD consumerism: DVDs that are rented from online mailers; DVDs that are rented from a store; DVDs that are purchased online; and DVDs that are bought from a store.

Video streaming was limited to TV and movies and did not include shorter videos that are streamed online through YouTube etc.

They found that video streaming and the online rental of DVDs required similar amounts of energy; however, the renting and purchasing of DVDs from a store were much more energy intensive, due to the impact of driving.

Lead author of the research Arman Shehabi, from Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, said: “It’s a modern-day equivalent of the debate about which is more environmentally sound—the disposable or the cloth diaper.

“Our study suggests that equipment designers and policy makers should focus on improving the efficiency of end-user devices and network transmission energy to curb the energy use from future increases in video streaming.

“Such efficiency improvements will be particularly important in the near future, when society is expected to consume far greater quantities of streaming video content compared to today.”

 

Fast Facts:

  • An estimated 1.2 billion DVDs were purchased in the US in 2011
  • An estimated 17.2 billion hours of DVDs were viewed in 2011 in the US
  • An estimated 3.2 billion hours of movies and television programmes were streamed in the US in 2011
  • The percentages of total video streaming viewing time attributable to computers, televisions, and mobile devices in 2011 are estimated at 20 percent, 77 percent, and 3 percent, respectively
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