Renewable Energy at Netflix: An Update

With over 100 million members around the world streaming more than 125 million hours of Netflix a day, Netflix has one of the world’s largest content delivery networks. And that network takes energy to run - although maybe not as much as people think.

For the past several years, we have been looking for ways to reduce our environmental impact, particularly in the area of electricity use, as this is the largest piece of our carbon footprint. Our last post on this topic was over two years ago, and we thought it would be good to report on our progress since then.

We have learned a lot since our last update - about sustainability, renewable energy, and new technologies to help us with both. Most importantly, we realized that we still have more to learn. Sustainability is a process and one that’s never done.

Our strategy around sustainability remains the same:

  • Use as little electricity as possible
  • Use renewables for the electricity we directly consume in our owned facilities
  • Encourage renewables or offset non-renewable energy in facilities we do not control

Minimizing electricity use

At Netflix, we are continually tuning the performance of our servers, both to reduce energy use and increase speed and other performance metrics. In 2015, we shared impressive metrics about the increase in server efficiency and have continued to make strides in this area. Today, our servers are able to support 200 percent of the bandwidth per watt than they were two years ago. Said another way, it takes us half as much energy to provide the same output.

With servers being the largest part of our footprint, we devote the majority of our efficiency efforts there. We also run a few other efficiency projects that reduce energy use in our office buildings, and we encourage and enable our employees to be green-minded.

Using renewable energy

While we continue to get more efficient in our energy use, for the electricity we do consume, we want to make it as green as possible. To do this, we first need to understand and quantify our total electricity use.

First, there is the energy that Netflix uses directly to run our operations. This includes energy use in our offices and our owned or leased facilities, and includes our Open Connect content delivery network. In 2016, the annual energy use for this part of our footprint was approximately 40,000 megawatt hours (MWhs).

But the larger part of our energy use is indirect - it’s the energy used by our partners including cloud services like Amazon Web Services and the Google Cloud Platform as well as the servers that are hosted in partner ISP networks. While we don’t have direct control over this energy use, we believe it is an important component to delivering our services and so include it in our energy use calculations. Energy use from partners in 2016 was estimated to be 100,000 MWhs. Combined with our direct energy use, our total electricity footprint is 140,000 MWhs.

We wish the electricity that we purchase from the grid was 100 percent renewable, but unfortunately it isn’t. However, that doesn't stop us from matching our non-renewable energy with renewable energy products nearby. We purchase renewable energy certificates to match our non-renewable energy use and fund renewable energy production from sources like wind and solar. The projects we support generate renewable energy in locations where we have a direct electricity footprint or a footprint through partners. For 2016, we purchased renewable energy in seven distinct regions in the U.S. as well as projects in Canada, Western Europe and Brazil.

Unfortunately, not all regions of the world have well-developed markets for renewable energy. In these cases, we contribute to emissions reduction by purchasing carbon offsets, which are sourced from projects that reduce, absorb or prevent carbon and other emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Reporting on our progress

This past April, Netflix joined the EPA’s Green Power Partnership program, a voluntary program where businesses commit to use green power for some or all of their annual electricity consumption. As part of this program, we submit an annual report on our total electricity use and investment in renewables.

Being new to the program, we did not know how our performance would compare with others in our industry. As a result of our work to offset our entire electrical footprint, we were recognized as a top Tech and Telecom company by the EPA.

We’re happy to appear on this list alongside companies that have much larger energy loads and are further along in their sustainability journey. However, we’re not finished. We know there’s more to be done, and Netflix will continue to explore new ways we to reduce our footprint in the coming years. Stay tuned for our next update.

--Neil

Neil Hunt is the Chief Product Officer at Netflix

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