IP traffic and data use by the industry and consumers have increased significantly in the last fifteen years. In Finland, the use of fixed data grew seven-fold and the use of mobile data 25-fold during 2011–2017. In the last few years, the growth has slowed down, but researchers believe that the use of fixed and mobile data will keep on growing in the coming years.
The information is revealed by a recent report by Aalto University and ETLA Economic Research (Etla), which was released on Monday, 8 June. In their report, researchers at Aalto and Etla address how the energy and electricity consumption in the ICT sector increased during 2011–2017.
In the last decade, the information sector and software-based applications acquired an increasing role in the everyday lives of humans and organisations. Digital services, mobile applications and software are increasingly utilised in everyday communication as well as companies’ operations.
In Finland, the use of mobile data alone increased on average 72 per cent each year in 2011-2017. The share of total data use in Finland is currently at approximately 29 per cent. Its share in relation to fixed network data is growing more rapidly than in the countries under comparison. The phenomenon is explained by two factors: the availability of fixed-price subscriptions with limitless data as well as Finland’s strong role as a developer of mobile technologies.
The increasing use of mobile data among consumers has not, however, resulted in growing household electricity consumption but as increased energy consumption in the entire ICT sector. Watching videos on the phone, in other words, does not increase the electricity consumption of just a single consumer but the entire ICT industry. Consumers' use of data services, streaming services in particular, is a factor that has increased IP traffic most significantly.
As states, companies and different types of organisations seek a shift towards a low-carbon economy, the role of the ICT sector is divided. On the one hand, it has been proposed that the ICT sector would seek more efficient energy consumption and form a basis for a greener economy. On the other hand, the growth in the ICT sector’s energy use and massive use of rare metals in usable devices has been perceived as a threat to sustainable development.
In Finland, electricity consumption represents as much as 68.7 per cent of the energy consumption in the entire ICT sector. In 2011-2017, electricity consumption of the ICT sector increased a total of 2.2 per cent annually. Within the ICT sector, the growth has been particularly strong in data processing where the electricity consumption increased by 130.9 per cent. Data processing services include for example data centres, the number of which keeps on increasing in Finland. In 2017, the share of the ICT sector in Finland’s entire electricity consumption totalled one per cent.
‘The energy and electricity consumption in the ICT sector will form an increasingly significant part of Finland’s electricity consumption. While electricity in Finland is a relatively pure form of energy, other energy sources in the ICT industry should also be set on a sustainable basis. During a power cut, for example, reserve power comes from heat and fuels based on fossil fuels that strain the environment,’ notes Timo Seppälä, Chief Research Scientist at Etla and Professor of Practice at Aalto University.
'Research shows that despite the strong growth of IP traffic and the amount of data the electricity consumption has not increased at an equivalent rate. Instead the relative share of the ICT sector's electricity consumption of the total electricity consumption in European countries seems to be strongly linked to the number of data centers. In other words, in the light of the information that was gathered, the growth in electricity consumption in the ICT sector is strongly focused on data centers, not so much on telecommunications networks,' says Kari Hiekkanen, Research Fellow at Aalto University.
The researchers were able to form a good overview of the energy and electricity consumption in the ICT sector using open data from Statistics Finland and Eurostat. Since open statistical data was available in great extent in Finland as well as elsewhere in Europe, they were also able to compare European countries.
The report has been written as part of the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra’s theme of carbon-neutral circular economy and the Digital Disruption of Industry research project, which is funded by the Academy of Finland.
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Chief Research Scientist, Etla
Professor of Practice, Aalto University
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Link to the research report (in Finnish)