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Estimating the resource intensity of the Internet: A meta-model to account for cloud-based services in LCA

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Journal Article

Ullrich, Noel, Felix M. Piontek, Constantin Herrmann, Alexandra Saraev, and Tobias Viere. 2022. “Estimating the Resource Intensity of the Internet: A Meta-Model to Account for Cloud-Based Services in LCA.” Procedia CIRP, The 29th CIRP Conference on Life Cycle Engineering, April 4 – 6, 2022, Leuven, Belgium., 105 (January): 80–85.

According to an analysis by the International Energy Agency based on industry data from cisco, the internet protocol (IP) data traffic has more than doubled in 2019 compared to 2016. In addition to an increased number of people and devices with internet access, new trends on the application level can be identified as drivers of this exponential growth. Carsharing, Industry 4.0, or smart home applications are examples of the rising importance of the Internet within new product systems. Therefore, it is indispensable for environmental analyses to account for both, the positive and negative effects of increased internet usage. The existing approaches to account for the resource consumption of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment have different system boundaries or focus exclusively on energy intensity, what offers the basis for further development. This paper provides a new approach for the life cycle assessment of cloud-based services. The presented meta-model accounts for different access technologies and physical topologies. It is based on a literature analysis of bottom-up studies focusing on the energy intensity of the Internet. Furthermore, a new approach is being developed to integrate the carbon intensity of the manufacture of the used network equipment. The meta-model is applied to selected case studies, which reveal the high relevance of customer premise equipment and data centers in the use stage, whereas data centers seem to be the dominating element concerning the manufacturing stage.

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