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    I’m not much of an environmentalist, but I’ll say this is a wonderful website: well-written content, attractive layout, and a thoughtfulness given to execution that is rarely seen. It harkens back to an older Internet that was substantially less commercial/conformist.

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      Yes I agree, and I must say that it’s at least an interesting and thought provoking exercise towards energy costs.

      Kind of in the same spirit as the time when someone thought if the U.S. Government switched to Garamond, they would have saved $400MM (turns out they would not have).

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        Agreed. As iffy as I am on the solar node plan, the design is everything I want from a content website!

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        If you really cared about the environment you would just drop the static website on an existing shared host. A low volume website like this uses next to 0 power when running on an existing server. Think about the resources that had to be mined to make those solar panels and hardware when the hardware is doing next to nothing.

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          I was thinking the exact same thing, wondering why you would build a server to host some static pages. They even state that it needs a 10W router, completely dwarfing any potential savings from the solar panels.

          That’s also what rubs me the wrong way about some eco activism. Yes, let’s do initiatives that sound nice but ultimately achieve next to nothing: banning straws, replacing plastic bags with tote bags (which lo and behold might actually be worse), etc. When the big savings are more like: drive less cars, use more public transport, do proper thermal insulation in your house to reduce heating/AC, fly less, buy new phones and electronics less often.

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            I’d assume that the 10W router is already a sunk cost, since they presumably want to be able to get onto and use internet somehow and already have the connectivity for it. If that’s the case, then I see maybe $70(usd) for the panel, $11 for the battery, $30 for the controller, $64 for the server = $175, and it consumes zero additional power. Assuming the gear lasts 10 years, that’s $17.50 a year to have the pages online.

            Web hosting costs what, maybe $2-$10 a month? Get it on the cheap and that’s still $24 a year to have someone host it.

            So for less money, they get to have the fun of building a little server, learning how to power it and host it with their power paid for up front. They can say they’re supporting the development of renewable energy technology, and get to brag about how your web page isn’t adding to co2 levels for the next decade. Plus they get to write about it. That seems like a solid win for a sustainability magazine.

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              I’d assume that the 10W router is already a sunk cost, since they presumably want to be able to get onto and use internet somehow and already have the connectivity for it.

              Okay, fair enough. But in this case buying a more power efficient router is not a good idea, since the current router already exists, and will only break even in a few years.

              Web hosting costs what, maybe $2-$10 a month? Get it on the cheap and that’s still $24 a year to have someone host it.

              It is not about the cost, it is about the ecological impact. Yes, you might save wrt shared hosting, but not because shared hosting is ecologically unfriendly, it is because some hosters charge a lot. On the other hand I can host static content on GitHub pages for free, so hosting the content my own server is infinitely more expensive and at the same time less ecologically friendly.

              get to brag about how your web page isn’t adding to co2 levels for the next decade.

              This is entirely my point. The production of the battery, panels etc generated way more CO2 than to just put it on shared hosting. How much hardware do you need to produce to put one more site on shared hosting? I’d argue way less than producing all the hardware required to serve your content from a dedicated server. Consider the opposite scenario: replacing shared hosting with one server per site would undoubtedly be less eco-friedly. Especially considering the large fleet of small servers would idle most of the time, whereas one larger server could use the resources way more efficiently.

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                I agree on almost everything you mention, but I’m not 100% convinced that a fleet of small servers would be less energy efficient.

                Keep in mind 99.9% of typical servers are power hungry Intel xeons cpu’s. Low cost hosters typically use hardware longer to save costs (older machines use a lot more power). Plus due to the fact hosters put everything in datacenters, you should also take cooling into account. A lot of electricity is simply wasted via heat. The current setup requires no active cooling, uses a low power CPU, only has a single power supply and it’s an arm so it will clock down when not in use.

                I’m not saying you are wrong, but I think the difference will probably be a lot smaller than you would think.

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                  But in this case buying a more power efficient router is not a good idea, since the current router already exists, and will only break even in a few years.

                  Maybe. It depends on the cost of the electricity and the cost of the replacement. Say the 10W router is new and could be reasonably expected to have 10 years of life in it. If it is powered from the grid, it hasn’t been paid for completely yet- it still needs power for the next 10 years. At an average electrical rate of $0.14/KWh in US, that is going to cost (10Wh * 24h * 365d *10y / 1000 = 876KWh * $0.14/KWh )= $122.64. A 1W router would use a tenth of the power, or about $12.26. So, if he could buy that 1W router today for less than ($122 - $12)= $110, it would start to make sense from an economic standpoint. It would make more sense if the cost of power in Barcelona is higher. With $0.25 power, the break point would be closer to $200.

                  The production of the battery, panels etc generated way more CO2 than to just put it on shared hosting. How much hardware do you need to produce to put one more site on shared hosting? I’d argue way less than producing all the hardware required to serve your content from a dedicated server.

                  I’d like to read that argument. How many of this guy’s solar servers do you think a typical grid powered, shared hosting server would have to replace to have the same overall carbon footprint for a ten year period?

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                    I thought we were talking about the ecological impact, not the cost to replace the router? In any case the electricity used is in my opinion less relevant in ecological calculation, since you can very well produce energy from renewable sources (whether Barcelona does this or not is a different question, but Denmark and Norway have a big share of wind and hydro power).

                    I’d like to read that argument. How many of this guy’s solar servers do you think a typical grid powered, shared hosting server would have to replace to have the same overall carbon footprint for a ten year period?

                    So, let’s do some over the envelope calculcations performance numbers: the older E2680 does 38259221 Dhrystone, the Raspberry Pi about 2800. While integer performance is possibly not the most accurate statistic, single board computers usually have just as bad IO performance as CPU as networking, so I’m just picking this. This means one older Xeon server at full capacity (because of course you want to run it at full capacity, to leverage the most out of the connection, the cooling, the cost of hardware) can replace rougly 13664 Rapsberry Pis running at full capacity. But as noted, the Raspberry Pi hosting one site so it is probably not running at capacity, rather at 10% at best, so a Xeon server can replace even more mostly-idling Raspberry Pis. Even with higher energy use of the Xeon, I’d be very surprised if the cost of production and use of one Xeon server (on hydro power for example) would be higher than the manufacture of multiple thousand Raspberry Pis, solar panels, batteries etc.

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                      Here’s how the back of my envelope looks…

                      To answer the question, “How many ‘little solar servers’ would a ‘big grid server’ have to replace to have the same carbon footprint over a period of years?” Figuring it out requires an energy cost estimate for the general manufacture of electronics, an operating energy cost, the carbon producing fraction of the energy sources used, and a timeframe.

                      Here’s some variables-

                      m = fraction of cost of electronics manufacture that is directly due to energy consumption.

                      r = cost of energy in kWh.

                      Eg = fraction of non-carbon producing energy sourced from the grid

                      Es = fraction of non-carbon producing energy sourced from the sun

                      y = the operating timeframe in years.

                      Variables for a server:

                      S = cost of the server in dollars.

                      Si = power consumption of server at idle in Watts.

                      Some calculations for a server:

                      Se = carbon kWh used to manufacture the server = (S*m)/r * (1-Esource)

                      So = yearly carbon kWh used to operate the server = (Si24365/1000) * (1-Esource)

                      Sl = lifetime carbon kWh = Se + (So * y)

                      Now some assumptions:

                      m= 0.30. I don’t really know what m is. I’m guessing its like 30%, but he lower it is, the less energy it takes to manufacture the hardware.

                      r= $0.14/kWh. That’s a reasonable average in the US.

                      Eg = 0.18 . That’s the percentage of ‘renewable’ energy in the us.

                      Es = 1.00. Power from solar is carbon free.

                      The little server “s”:

                      s = $175. an estimate from the parts the guy used.

                      si = 1W. From what the author claims. I’m assuming that the servers are almost always at idle.

                      The big server “S”:

                      S = $2000. An estimate for a rack mountable server with an E2680 processor.

                      Si = 80W. The processor idles at a lower wattage, but this is probably reasonable for a full system.

                      I’m assuming that both servers are produced with grid energy, and the big server is going to source its operating power from the grid.

                      I run those numbers, and Sl = 10032kWh, sl = 374kWh. The big server has a carbon footprint about 27 times bigger than the little server over a ten year period.

                      So..

                      If the choice is to buy either a big grid server or a little solar server to run the site, definitely go with the little server to optimize for carbon. The big server won’t be more efficient until it can replace 26 other small solar sites.

                      If considering VPS hosting on a big server with like 20-30 other hosts on it, its probably not more efficient than hosting on little solar servers, but its close.

                      If the big server is running unbalanced shared hosting, with 100’s of hosts per server, then for sure go with the big server. Its a win for the environment!

                      Sorry for all the math, and feel free to play with the assumptions….

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                        Sorry for the late response, but I would like to thank you for running the numbers, I appreciate it, it is one of the reasons why I enjoy being on the site.

                        I don’t have better numbers (nor an idea how to figure out how to adjust the variables to fit the real world), so I can only go as far as to say that 27 shared hosting sites sounds like a low number. Considering e.g. how many Github Pages there are, I assume they have more than that amount per-server.

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                Eco activism usually skips the “talk to your local/regional/national govt and companies” level. Most of the meaningful positive impacts come from regulations and corporate changes, not personal behavioural initiatives, so people should be focusing their efforts there and only afterwards spending time on personal changes.

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                  It’s difficult to argue for others to live up to ideals that you don’t act on yourself. Acting individually and pushing for regulatory changes are anything but mutually exclusive.

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                    I agree from the principle point of view, but disagree from a human psychology perspective.

                    There is only a finite amount of effort people make. If that finite effort goes to marginally effective things, people just feel good about themselves and stop there, without really making an impact. Yes, in theory people could do both, but when it comes to practice people don’t. This is why it’s so important to start with what’s more effective and then if someone has excess energy, move down the list.

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                      so if i support a carbon tax, i have to voluntarily donate a % of my gas budget to the government?

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                        Kind of. If you support regulations for limiting CO2 emissions, it would indeed be a good idea to also consider how you could lower your own carbon footprint. Even if you don’t believe that will make a difference, you might still find it difficult convince others (including politicians) about the urgency of, say, acting against global heating, if you are not yourself prepared to bike or use public transport more, or eat less or no animals.

                        But, well, there could of course be different ideas behind supporting carbon tax as it can in effect be a pay-to-pollute scheme designed to favour large corporations that can afford to buy quotas over local farmers who can’t.

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                      You can definitely do both. Also, personal changes serve a valuable awareness purpose that directly plays into larger political goals. You can totally multi-track this and cover a lot of ground.

                      SUVs don’t buy themselves, and it contributes something. Not every action needs to cut more than 1% of worldwide emissions.

                      Though personal stuff can sometimes backfire (as seen here), so it’s important to be smart about things.

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                    That and the shared host can run on solar and still get five nines by geographically distributing the servers.

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                      This. Off and on I’ve costed out providing dedicated servers using low power processors, but the amount of compute and ram per watt has never panned out out compared to building a bigger server and subdividing it.

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                        If you really cared about the environment you would just drop the static website on an existing shared host. A low volume website like this uses next to 0 power when running on an existing server.

                        I wonder what the per-request and per-website energy consumption values of NeoCities are.

                        I could not find any hard figures; probably they are both close to zero watt.

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                          But that is not as fun.

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                            No, not at all. This website is very cool but not a good example for what you would do if you wanted to minimize environmental impact. I have been reading the other content on the website and the author has done some really interesting stuff that is impactful like powering his home office from a few solar panels on his apartment window as well as converting his device chargers to DC so there is no DC -> AC -> DC for most devices

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                            Indeed. A lowendspirit box for $3 year has to be more sustainable, especially if you put the funds that would have otherwise gone into self-hosting into an environmental project like planting trees

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                              I tested and my dirt cheap VPS can handle about 17,000 requests per second for a static blog with hugo. Even though that vps probably still is better for the environment, its still super wasteful to have a whole OS and web server dedicated to a blog that probably usually gets about 300 users per day. The most efficient setup would probably be a shared nginx server where everyone just drops their files in over ssh. The per user cost of hosting a static blog is pretty much nothing which is why so many of these services exist for free.

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                            I enjoyed this article, but the conclusions were mostly not very surprising. Run a static site on a low-power device. Minimize the resources you serve, to conserve bandwidth. Eliminate dependencies on third-party resources.

                            The image processing was the most interesting bit to me. They reduce all images to 2bpp grayscale, and then use a CSS filter to apply a theme color.

                            The other interesting bit is that they are not aiming for 100% uptime, only 90%, according to the weather. That’s a very different way of looking at website availability than we’re used to.

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                              I kept waiting to get to the point in the article where they talked about improving uptime with geographic redundancy, but they never got to it. Maybe they’re saving it for a future issue?

                              The fascinating thing to me is that while using DNS for distribution is typically considered unsuitable for failover scenarios, the common thinking is that failover is unpredictable. That’s not the case here! You can easily predict when your battery is going to die and remove yourself from the DNS pool when your battery life dips below the DNS record’s time-to-live duration.

                              So it seems sacrificing uptime for sustainability is not strictly necessary.

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                                Noted those two points too (images and uptime). I wish more sites where like solar.lowtechmagazine.com.

                                I’ve updated my website long time ago (removed Google Analytics, web fonts, JS, cookies, etc), works great for me.

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                                  Not surprising, it’s things we already know. However, it’s nice to see them put all of it together to “walk the walk” and put their own site’s availability and revenue stream on the line.

                                  It’s no Amazon going 90% up time, but it’s somebody doing something to show a way it can be done and what the trade offs are.

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                                    Is it 2 bit or 3 bit images? They said four levels of gray between black and white, which would be six shades. I think that was just confusion though.

                                    I’d be curious if 2bpp is actually so much better than 8bpp with compression. Dithering amounts to noise, which compresses kinda poorly. Hypothesis: there are early gains by reducing palette and posterizing, beyond which it becomes more difficult to meaningfully shrink file sizes.

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                                    I do like their idea of reducing the number of colors for their images. They’re end up looking pretty good to boot. Not everyone will have the option to do so, but it works here because it’s on-brand.

                                    On a separate note, I feel like we’re wasting the potential of computers by making websites that simply return static pages. It seems like this magazine simply wants to produce articles. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We need more than just hyper links: ways to manipulate and query the content. Perhaps browsers can do more work in this space.

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                                      I’d like to know how they host. Like DynDNS? I know basically nothing about this kind of thing.

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                                        Some ISPs offer static IP addresses for an extra cost or you could point cloudflare at your ipv6 address but some kind of dynamic DNS setup is probably how it works because that is easy and free, you pretty much just add a curl command to your crontab.

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                                        Yeah this doesn’t feel right, does it. Economies of scale, efficiency from multiplexing many occasionally-running processes onto discrete devices and other huge gains from centralisation in the DC, acknowledgement but no critical analysis of why ‘the internet’ (which is a conceputal thing in the first place that’s never well defined) has taken the structure it has.

                                        This is nearly completely a political issue - without political context the technicalities of this project make no sense.

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                                          I would like to see a breakdown of the costs to build this. For me the environmental thing is neat but costs are much more interesting.

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                                            Although I respect their commitment, I strongly disagree with their choice on images. We have to distinguish between what’s a worthwhile cost to pay vs not so. One of the benefits of color images is we can experience the world close to how others’ are experiencing it. We don’t even have to develop color photographs and mail them any more. I really like the pictures on the site. They’re as important as the text to me. I’d rather keep them realistic, at least color for accurate descriptions, than save a little bit of energy.

                                            They should just go static in a VM running on one of the ARM servers or something. Alternatively, run it on a mobile SoC. Use caching so stuff is served from RAM. That should be plenty power savings.

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                                              Depends on the purpose of the image, tbh. I can see a lot of images that are for conveying information getting dithered and nothing being lost, while images for aesthetics would obviously suffer.

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                                                I think it works the other way. The tinted black and white looks very pretty but charts and stuff become unreadable.

                                                I think this looks nicer than a full color image would https://i.imgur.com/9O0rhKg.png

                                                It also keeps the page visually simple and removes distractions.

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                                              “We aim for an “uptime” of 90%, meaning that the website will be off-line for an average of 35 days per year. “

                                              If the entire internet, rather than this one magazine’s static blog, had 90% uptime, it would be unusable for anything serious. Micromanaging the amount of electricity that the server running this one website isn’t actually much of an environmental win, since if everyone in the world did what these people are doing - and if you’re concerned about the environment, it matters what everyone in the world is doing, not just you - the internet would be incredibly degraded compared to what we are used to now.

                                              It would be better to figure out how to make large-scale PV arrays (and the associated power storage infrastructure - batteries, pumped-water storage, etc.) as reliable and efficient as possible, so that society can continue to run in a way that assumes electrical power is relatively cheap and only unavailable in emergencies.

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                                                If the entire internet, rather than this one magazine’s static blog, had 90% uptime, it would be unusable for anything serious.

                                                I think the biggest change they are trying to effect is in this attitude. People (in the first world, especially) expect to have their desires fulfilled instantly all the time. The easiest and biggest ecological improvement we could make is to just consume fewer resources. If Low Tech’s site has 90% uptime, in order to get that last 10% they’d have to at least double their impact by providing a redundant server setup where the sun is likely to shine while the other is in the dark (or add batteries, but is that lower impact?). If we halved the internet’s resource consumption and still had 90% access, an average person’s life should hardly be disastrously effected. If Lobsters is down today, read a book, go outside, or talk to someone face to face. Life doesn’t have to pause in frustration.

                                                *Nothing directed specifically towards you. We, as a society, have put everything onto the internet which has created this dependence.

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                                                  My argument is that being able to put various types of societal institutions onto the internet is actually really, really useful, but that usefulness is dependent on the assumption of widespread availability. This website or even lobsters aren’t the important examples, those particular small parts of the internet can handle 90% uptime. I’m talking things that actually matter to large numbers of people - say, the entire prgmr datacenter that hosts lobsters, or healthcare.gov, or Amazon AWS, or the root DNS servers. Basically, any the failure of any infrastructure that large numbers of other people depend on needs to have an extremely high uptime, because the failures from one piece of infrastructure failure will cascade and lead to even higher amounts of downtime on those dependencies, until the whole system is unusable.

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                                                    Yes, it has been extremely useful. But I disagree that we need all of it accessible all of the time. Certainly there are services that will need to have higher accessibility. But most things do not. Not long ago you could only get most things done during business hours. Less convenient, but it worked fine. You planned for it. Somewhere in the middle could be significant energy/ecological savings with little personal impact.

                                                    People won’t give up their conveniences, though. The ideal solution will need to maintain our current expectations while reducing impact.

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                                                      Not long ago you could only get most things done during business hours. Less convenient, but it worked fine.

                                                      But business hours were geographically restricted. Waking up in the middle of the night to use Google Maps because of their US-centric opening times is not great.

                                                      The ideal solution will need to maintain our current expectations while reducing impact.

                                                      In this case I think reducing impact can be done without giving up availability. Though of course for this type of site 90% uptime is okay, except for it sends a bit of a mixed signal, since if you’re interested in reading the article and the site is down you don’t get to learn about how to reduce one’s impact.

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                                                    10% downtime works out to 2 hours, 24 minutes per day being down. The question now becomes if it’s worth to shut down a computer for 2h24m every day. Does the amount of power during boot up exceed the power of an idle computer over 2h24m? Does the daily power-cycling of a computer lower the lifetime of the computer vs. always keeping it up?

                                                    I mean, if you are really concerned about this, these are the types of questions that need to be quantified.

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                                                      That’s the wrong question. It’s not run time power that is being saved. Low Tech as the example, removes the impact of producing an entire second server, battery, controller and solar cell by not trying to get that last 10% through redundancy. And removes that waste and recycling cost at EOL.

                                                      Run time power is free via the sun. It’s production and removal that remain as impact.

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                                                        10% downtime works out to 2 hours, 24 minutes per day being down.

                                                        Not really. The server stats say it has been running for 1 week now. I expect there are large downtimes where the server could be down for days in stormy weather. In this case there are only a few power cycles but the downtime is still 10%

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                                                    Could a number of these systems, distributed globally, and configured to act as a shared host for a number of small websites mitigate some of the issues raised by other commentors? Namely increasing uptime and lowering the fixed environmental cost of the router and hardware on a per-site basis.