This month Greenpeace released our latest analysis (fifth and counting) of which major internet companies are leading the charge to build a renewably powered internet - and which ones are lagging behind.
The good news: we see a real race emerging to build an internet that is 100% renewably powered by a range of companies. Previous laggards, like Facebook and Apple, are now scoring near the top of the class, with Facebook executives and Apple's Tim Cook alerting the internet about their good grades.
The bad news: many of the companies that are now among biggest drivers of internet traffic – video streaming platforms – have not even approached the starting line.
While it may seem that watching a video online has no physical footprint, powering our online world requires a considerable amount of energy, and is rapidly increasing with the explosion of video. The higher definition a video, the larger the amount of energy needed to deliver it. HD is three to four times more data than standard video, and Super HD is nearly ten times larger.
Streaming video is already responsible for over 60% of internet traffic, and is expected to grow to 80% in some regions by 2020. More than half of the top ten sites in downstream internet traffic in North America are video streaming sites, with Netflix alone commanding over 35% of total downstream internet traffic. Data demand from video streaming is also rapidly expanding in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
YouTube (Google), iTunes (Apple) and Amazon Video (AWS) – along with increasingly video-heavy Facebook – have all made commitments to be 100% renewably powered. Google, Apple and Facebook have also signed sizable renewable energy deals to bring their reliance on clean energy to more than 50%.
Netflix (along with Hulu) has done neither. And with over 90 million subscribers already, Netflix is expected to continue to grow as it expands its service to more than 190 countries. Netflix's lack of commitment means its rapid growth is increasing demand for coal and other dirty sources of energy that are a threat to human health and the climate.
Our latest analysis showed that Netflix's reliance on clean energy is just 17%, with over 80% of its energy coming from dirty and dangerous sources like coal, gas and nuclear. Netflix is not very transparent about its energy use, so we calculated these figures by assessing the energy footprint of Netflix's data center provider, Amazon Web Services (AWS).
While AWS is now one of the IT companies committed to 100% RE (since December 2014), it has grown rapidly in the last year in regions like Virginia in the US that have only 2-3% renewable electricity. Its clean energy score fell from 23% to 17% since our last assessment in 2015. Netflix is a customer of AWS for its core data center services, but it should make commitments to use renewables independently, and push AWS and its other digital hosts around the world to shift their operations to renewable energy as rapidly as possible.
You can make a difference to help Netflix go green!
When Greenpeace began challenging major internet companies in 2010 to build a green internet, zero companies were willing to commit to be 100% renewably powered. Fast forward six years, and after pressure from customers wanting their cloud to be renewably powered, nearly 20 major internet companies have committed to be 100% renewably powered. These commitments have already translated into a whopping 6GW of renewable energy onto the grid globally, or enough to power more than four million homes for a year!
Sometimes companies need a push from their customers to get motivated and do the right thing. Just as Apple, Facebook and other IT leaders have shown, Netflix can be a leader in building a renewably-powered internet.
Join us and tell Netflix you want your movies and favourite programmes to be powered with renewable energy!
Gary Cook is a Senior IT Campaigner for Greenpeace USA