DigitalizationData transmission technology determines carbon footprint of video streaming

Today, the German Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) together with the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) published a study on CO2 emissions from cloud services such as video streaming. The results show that the climate compatibility of streaming is closely linked to data transmission technologies.

As part of the research project "Green Cloud Computing", the UBA commissioned the Öko-Institut and Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM) with this study. The calculations for the carbon footprint were based on real measurement data from data centers and technical data sheets.

These are further details:

  • The lowest climate impact with two grams of CO2 per hour of video streaming (for data center and transmission without accounting for power consumption of end devices) occurs when HD videos are transmitted to consumers at home via a fiber optic connection.
  • Streaming video via copper cable emits four grams of CO2 per hour, whereas 3G data transmission amounts to 90 grams of CO2 per hour and via 5G transmission to five grams of CO2.
  • In addition, data transmission in Ultra HD resolution requires ten times the data volume of HD quality – 7 GB instead of 700 MB per hour. Consumers are therefore advised to stream in lower resolution in order to save CO2 emissions. The difference in quality is not noticeable to the human eye on devices with a small display anyway.
  • During the corona pandemic from February to March 2020 around 30 percent more consumers used streaming services and cloud gaming. At the world's largest Internet hub in Frankfurt am Main, the highest value ever was measured with 9.16 terabits of data throughput per second in March 2020 – this corresponds to the simultaneous transmission of more than two million HD videos.

Svenja Schulze, German Minister for the Environment, commented: "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. […] 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."

Source: UBA & BMU

More information on the UBA and BMU press releases