Video streaming: data transmission technology crucial for climate footprint

Svenja Schulze
Note: This text is from the archive.
Published on:
Sequence number: No. 144/20
Topic: Digitalisation
Publisher: Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety
Minister: Svenja Schulze
Term of office: 14.03.2018 - 08.12.2021
19th Leg. period: 14.03.2018 - 08.12.2021
Current data from the Federal Environment Agency on the environmental impact of cloud services makes it possible to calculate the carbon footprint of data-intensive services more realistically than in the past.

HD-quality video streaming produces different levels of greenhouse gas emissions depending on the transmission technology. The CO2 emissions generated by data processing in a data centre are relatively low, at 1.5 grams of CO2 per hour. However, the technology used to transmit data from the data centre to the user determines the climate compatibility of cloud services like video streaming. Greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced considerably, depending on the data transmission technology used. This is shown by initial research findings commissioned by the Federal Environment Agency.

The lowest CO2 emissions are produced when HD video is streamed at home over a fibre optic connection, with only 2 grams of CO2 per hour of video streaming for the data centre and data transmission. A copper cable (VDSL) generates 4 grams per hour. UMTS data transmission (3G), however, produces 90 grams of CO2 per hour. If the transmission technology used to transmit data is 5G instead, only about 5 grams of CO2 are emitted per hour. The electricity used by the end device is not factored into this calculation.

German Environment Minister Schulze said: "To date, the data available on how digital infrastructure affects the climate has been extremely sparse. This is why we are working to bridge the existing gaps in our knowledge with solid research. After all, good policy needs to be based on good data. The most recent findings now show us that it is possible to stream data without negatively impacting the climate if you do it right and choose the right method for data transmission. From an environmental perspective, it would be a good idea to set up more public WiFi hotspots, as this is more climate-friendly than streaming in mobile networks. The climate benefit of working from home and video conferencing can even increase with the right transmission methods and more efficient data centres. My goal is to capitalise on the German EU Council Presidency to reach a common position on environmentally friendly digitalisation because the best approach would be to set good standards throughout Europe."

10.09.2020 | Press release No. 144/20 | Digitalisation
Joint release by the German Federal Environment Ministry BMU and the German Environment Agency UBA
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