Cars and plastics are on the top of the list of climate crisis contributors, but internet use and infrastructure has quietly grown into one of the biggest carbon emitters in the world.
A Saturna Island-based internet service provider is looking at a greener way forward.
Colin Curwen runs South Island Internet, an internet service company on Saturna Island. On July 10, he made the first step into converting his operation to run off-grid. Curwen’s infrastructure is small, with the capacity to provide service to around 300 people. He uses low-watt radio transmitters set up on two towers on Saturna to connect people to the internet using Wi-Fi signals.
“Our goal is to go off-grid fully. We want to be able to run our entire ISP from the sun,” Curwen said.
No matter who you are, odds are good that you use the internet. Even for people who stay away from the internet, that world still has an effect on everyday life. This article could not have been written without the internet, it was stored on a server and has been distributed online through digital copies of the Driftwood. In fact, every article ever published in the Driftwood is taking up space somewhere on a server, along with everything else ever published online. Humanity’s thirst for data has created the need for millions of servers, all running on electricity.
Most businesses have a server somewhere inside the building. Those servers are often in air-conditioned rooms and are running 24/7 with backup generators ready for any disruption. Bigger companies have entire floors dedicated to server space. Bigger still are the large data centres located everywhere in the world (Canada has nearly 200) that take up entire buildings and use the same amount of power as the biggest countries. Globally, data centres used roughly 416 terawatts (416 trillion watts) in 2016, which is 40 per cent more than the entire United Kingdom did that year, according to Forbes magazine.
Numbers are only expected to continue to rise, especially with the proliferation of mobile and smart devices. Smart devices like smart homes, cars, transportation and toys all require data to work. Phone apps are nearly all connected to data, even in applications like contacts and settings. Though the numbers can be hard to wrap the mind around, they apply mainly to tech and telecom giants, most of which do purchase some carbon offsets for their power usage.
Curwen’s company is much smaller, which makes off-grid operation easier.
“We’re pretty small potatoes. I realized that these radios are optimized for the environment out here. They sip power, and a lot of them only run on a couple of watts of energy . . . My system runs between 50 watts and 100 watts per day.”
Curwen hopes to finish rolling out his solar operation and battery storage using reclaimed Tesla batteries by the end of the summer. He also has plans to expand service through the Gulf Islands.
For more on this story, see the July 17, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.
This story has been updated to include details about the operation’s battery storage.