Energy and Greenhouse Implications of Internet Video Streaming in the United States

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Journal Article

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The rapid growth of streaming video entertainment has recently received attention as a possibly less energy intensive alternative to the manufacturing and transportation of digital video discs (DVDs). This study utilizes a life-cycle assessment approach to estimate the primary energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions associated with video viewing through both traditional DVD methods and online video streaming. Base-case estimates for 2011 video viewing energy and CO2(e) emission intensities indicate video streaming can be more efficient than DVDs, depending on DVD viewing method. Video streaming benefits from relatively more efficient end-user devices than DVD viewing, though much of that savings is lost when accounting for the additional energy from network data transmission. Video streaming appears distinctly favorable when compared against any DVD viewing that includes consumer driving, which significantly increases the energy and CO2(e) emissions per viewing hour. Total US 2011 video viewing required about 192 PJ of primary energy and emitted about 10.5 billion kg of CO2(e). Shifting all 2011 DVD viewing to video streaming reduces the total primary energy use to about 162 PJ and the CO2(e) emissions to about 8.6 billion kg, representing a savings equivalent to the primary energy used to meet the electricity demand of nearly 200 000 US households each year. Sensitivity analysis indicates that results are most influenced by the end-user DVD player power demand, data transmission energy, and consumer travel for store DVDs. Data center energy use—both operational and embodied within the IT equipment—account for <1% of the total video streaming energy use. Results from this study indicate that designers and policy makers should focus on the efficiency of end-user devices and network transmission energy to curb future increases in energy use from the proliferation of video streaming.


Environmental Research Letters



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Research Areas