This piece originally appeared on Oilprice.com.
Do you know how much energy it takes to connect one Pokémon GO player? You may neither know nor care but you will find out shortly: it takes the equivalent of 1/5 of a gallon of gasoline. That’s not really a lot, admittedly, but when you add up all the players and the expected players who will join the fun in search for animated characters soon, the overall energy impact of the augmented-reality game comes in at the equivalent of 20,000 cars.
Still not too much but then you can add – as carbon accountants have done – the energy needed to produce a smartphone, a server or any other part of the huge infrastructure that is making it possible for tens of millions of people to play the game. Some have even gone further, calculating the wear and tear in shoes while gamers hunt Pokemons, and have concluded that shoemakers stand to benefit hugely from all this walking around.
Another significant part of energy consumption comes, of course, from the operation of all the hardware infrastructure that supports the game. The success of Pokémon GO has been so sudden and so big that the servers can’t handle the traffic. This means additional energy to fix what’s down and expand the capacity as necessary. Adding up all this, Pokémon GO’s energy bill starts to look a bit more substantial.
Pokémon GO, however, is just the start. Augmented reality is the harbinger of virtual reality, complete with 3D high-definition visual data. Streaming will become commonplace as digital tech moves further forward, and streaming, specifically mobile streaming, as Forbes author Mark P. Mills puts it, is to Pokémon GO as an SUV is to a scooter. Taking it up a notch, he says virtual reality is to these two as a semitrailer is to an SUV and a scooter.
This road analogy is excellent, because it reminds us that the virtual world needs the physical world to sustain it. And it’s not just that. With the constant advances being made in digital tech of all sorts, it is very likely that the carbon footprint of the Internet will overtake that of air travel. At the moment this may sound far-fetched but such a scenario could arrive within a decade.
The hunger for more and newer apps, games and anything else that glues people to the screens is not showing any signs of becoming satiable anytime soon. Then there’s the Internet of Things, which is also energy-intensive. The most viable solution to this growing energy demand is, of course, renewable energy. After all, we’re talking about reducing a budding carbon print that may make gas-guzzlers look like tricycles in terms of energy consumption. Then again, we might just lean back on good old oil and gas.
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On a side – and ironic – note, Nintendo said Friday the actual impact on its bottom line of Pokémon GO will be limited, sending its stock sharply down, just as analysts at all the big investment banks were coming to terms with the stock’s unexpected skyrocketing following the release of the game.