Monday, April 6, 2009

Is the World Wide Web Sustainable?

I like the Web, don't you?

Email is convenient for me. News is convenient. Weather data is a snap.

The Web has become so fundamental to our way of life that it is obviously assumed to be sustainable, that it will last forever moving forward. But, is it really sustainable?

The consistent decrease in net energy available to civilization necessitates an exploration into the future viability of the Web assumption.

I haven't heard any discussion about the sustainability of the Web. Have you? Please send me some references if you have.

The analysis of the sustainability of the Web reminds me of some of the truly nutbag statements I see on a daily basis about our energy choices, for example: I often hear people try to "explain" to poor little old me about the "fact" that "wind is carbon free" or "solar doesn't use any oil."

Well, those kind of statements just emphasize the complete lack of competency of the author to discuss energy.

Solar panels use tons and tons of oil. They do so at every level of the supply chain that it takes to design, develop, fund, manufacture, transport, install, maintain, sell them and deliver energy to the grid.

The same with wind power. You have to build factories, with oil. Build components like steel towers and even carbon-fiber blades, with oil. You have to transport the components, with oil. Feed the workers, with oil. Etc., etc..

The Web is the same.

It takes oil to build the components. It takes about 630 units of energy from oil to make one unit of silicon computer chips.

It takes oil to build the servers, the switchgear, the cabling, the fiber optic, to lay the fiber optic, to build satellites and deploy them, to fill the maintenance trucks with fuel and feed the maintenance workers.

It seems to me that at some level it would be interesting for some clever doctoral candidate to attempt to conduct a real energy-based cost analysis of the Web. I'll bet the real numbers would make us gasp. Unfortunately, life calls, or I might attempt such a difficult analysis here.

All I am saying is that I doubt if it is going to be so simple to keep the Web up and running in a world of collapsing EROEI.

But, I think the military, for one, will take resources away from something else to protect the continued operation of the Web. Like, taking energy away from somebody that they could otherwise use for food production. This is more than sad. It is potentially inhumane.

Think about it.

Enjoy the Net Energy Free Fall as it gets worse this year, and next.

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