Streaming video from Netflix or Amazon isn’t just more convenient than DVDs, it saves lots of energy and keeps old discs out of landfill.
That’s unless you buy your discs online or use one of the rapidly-disappearing disc rental services, which use the same energy as streaming but don’t help with waste.
That’s the conclusion of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the USA when they compared the energy and CO2 of discs and streaming in the USA in 2011.
Arman Shehabi, Ben Walker and Eric Masanet wrote: “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.”
Published in Environmental Research Letters, their report on The energy and greenhouse-gas implications of internet video streaming in the United States was funded by the United States Department of Energy.
The US used about 53million MWh (192 Petajoules) in 2011 consuming DVDs and streaming video – enough to keep half a dozen modern nuclear power stations busy all year.
Switching to streaming video would have saved our post-Colonial English-mangling cousins 14million MWh – the same as 200,000 US households.
A rough conversion to the UK means we’d save 2.8 million MWh, but UK homes are so energy-efficient that streaming would save enough energy for seven hundred thousand homes.
It turns out that spinning discs to read them with a laser more than twice as energy intensive than a streaming video player, even if it’s inside a power-hungry games console.
Surprisingly, the data centres where streaming video lives account for less than one per cent of the streaming energy cost – most of the power use comes from the networks, and the researchers warn that ISPs will need to make their networks more efficient as we move to high definition, high bandwidth streaming that will demand more power.
Transport’s a major cost for DVDs as well – most of the saving compared to streaming – and that’s going to be worse for Americans in their gas-guzzling SUVs than the compact cars preferred in Blighty.
Not only can we save on importing gas and oil from dodgy regimes, a switch to streaming would save the US 8.6 billion kg of CO2 emissions.
Finally, with the typical disc spending only five years on your shelf before it’s dumped in a hole somewhere, there’s no way that packaged media can ever be less wasteful than streaming.
Main image: Ed Webster/Flickr