We have conducted exiting research, now forthcoming [1], that calculates energy footprints all over the world, from Europe to Sub-Saharan Africa to South-East Asia and the Americas. I wanted to put my own energy footprint into perspective. How does it compare to the rest of the world?

On top of that, I recently developed an interest in the connection of digitalization and energy demand. How much energy is a Google query using? How much energy does it take to stream Netflix?

These questions are not yet satisfactorily answered by our research. This is mostly because we modeled energy footprint distributions for the year 2011 and more recent data is hardly available at a large scale. Only since about 2010 data usage took really off. Netflix, ubiquitous smartphone use, music streaming, 100 presidential tweets a day, all of Youtube, picture-heavy websites like this one, cloud computing etc. all are novel phenomena, only penetrating society over the course of the last decade (2010s). The household consumer surveys that underlie our models at the moment do not even contain sections on cloud related data processing. They might contain expenditure on ICT (information and communication tech.) but this only results in embodied energy for ICT-devices and direct electricity use, let us say for a laptop, but it does not account yet for the vast data flows existing today in 2020.

That is why here I want to do three things.

  1. Estimate my own energy footprint (including the energy required for my internet/data use).
  2. See whether the internet/data energy footprint is a significant portion of the total or not.
  3. Put my total footprint into international perspective based on our paper.

For estimating my own indirect energy footprint (energy that is embodied in things that I buy like laptops, food etc.), I looked at the expenditure I have and took the expenditure corresponding energy footprint data that we computed in our research. Gauging my direct energy footprint (Heat and electricity at home) was even easier since I could just look up my usage at home. I then finally checked how much data I am using on my PC and my phone combined in a month, extrapolated this number to a year, used data-energy-intensity numbers from published research [2] to attain a total data energy footprint and there we go, my entire energy profile/footprint

This profile by the way is for the year 2019 when I lived in a super old (but nice appearance) building with crazy heat leakage, in a small flat of just about 30 square meter. We lived there the two of us, otherwise my direct energy footprint per capita would have been even twice as high!!!

Two crazy observations from that only:

  1. My data usage as well as the entire electricity I am using at home are only minor parts of my entire energy footprint.
  2. My energy footprint per year is 60 Gigajoule, despite only relying on public transport and not owning or driving a car. It could be a lot worse. Yet globally considered I am in the top 20%, almost top 15%.

This means that 85%, or in other words ~6.5 billion people, of people consume less energy than I do. Than I do?! Me? A poor PhD student (really, we do not earn any significant money) yet considering the whole world, I am not that poor. This really reveals the drama of being a high-income country inhabitant, or rather of not being one. You can see this in the Figure below. The red shaded area by the way is the range of energy consumption (roughly between 5-35 GJ/capita/year) where scientists estimated that this not sufficient for a life of decent quality (actually newest data shows somewhere between 15-20 GJ/capita/year could be done [3]). The redder the area the less likely it is the amount of energy suffices to live well, so between 5-10GJ/capita/year almost certainly is too little energy for people to be well off. Yet almost 40%!!! world-wide of people live that way (most of whom in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia).

We recently moved house to a much more modern flat with electric heating, less heat leak and finally a completely renewable based energy supplier (bulb as energy supplier). I am already excited to compare in one year time how my (direct) footprint might have changed.


[1] Oswald, Owen, Steinberger (2020). Large inequality in international and intranational energy footprints between income groups and across consumption categories. Forthcoming. Nature Energy.

[2] https://www.nature.com/magazine-assets/d41586-018-06610-y/d41586-018-06610-y.pdf

[3] Rao et al. (2019) Energy requirements for decent living in India, Brazil and South Africa. Nature Energy. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-019-0497-9