As an organisation re-addressing our relationship with materials, process and methodologies, when it came to making a website, we wanted to do something that abided by the same principles that we advocate across the photographic industry.
We widely promote the accessibility of knowledge and the sharing of research and ideas. We believe that the value gained from building upon and adding to collective knowledge has benefits far outweighing the potential gains made from withholding information and encouraging a culture of exclusivity driven by profits.
So, when we stumbled across a wealth of open-source information, advice and guidance on building a solar-powered website, collected and meticulously investigated by Kris de Decker, on a solar-powered version of his own site “Low-tech Magazine”, we knew that this was a like-minded community that echoed the same principles of The Sustainable Darkroom.
As non-specialists in computer science, we enlisted the help of a couple of friends and family members; thanks to Pierre Cazenave and George Ash for sharing their time and expertise to make this site possible.
WHAT GOOD IS A SOLAR POWERED WEBSITE?
With constant web upgrades, interactive features, videos and just masses of high-impact content, interacting online is increasingly resource-intensive.
As the power needed to open and navigate a website increases, so too does the need for more powerful computers. The more power needed, the quicker the battery on your computer is depleted. This creates a system of shortening device life and the need to manufacture yet more computers to replace them.
The more moving elements and flashy gimmicks to websites, the more rare earth minerals are mined, and the more carbon emissions are added to the atmosphere. So perhaps we can think twice before adding that 4K video to the landing page of our website.
As well as the masses of computing power required globally, we can also consider electricity usage. At this point, we might point out that, if our energy is coming from solar, why would it matter how much electricity is used; solar is renewable right?
We would argue that just because a resource is renewable, it doesn’t mean that it should be used carelessly. This is all part of changing the logic of consumption. Wood is also a renewable resource, but it doesn't make sense to print a book on paper that overrides what is necessary, just because it’s a renewable resource. We need to be conscious of all materials, no matter their origin, provenance or source - not everything is ours to take. ‘The Internet already uses three times more energy than all wind and solar power sources worldwide can provide’ (low tech mag). Perhaps if websites consumed less energy, we would have enough solar to power the whole internet. More over, the harnessing and storage of solar power requires cables, batteries and a multitude of materials like crystalline silicon. These all come at social and environmental costs, ie they require mining, labour and energy intensive processing.
If we want our website to use less electricity, then we need each viewer's computer and browser to do the minimal amount of work possible. The less your browser has to do, the less electricity is needed.
To make our content as least energy intensive as possible, there are a few simple things that the open source solar pelican theme includes and we have followed:
- Use a static website
- Only put on the content you need
- Use fonts and default type faces, these already exists on computers, so they are not being downloaded when you open your website
- Write minimal CSS
- Compress images
- Run at less than 100% reliability (allowing the website to go offline some times)
Note: we do not have the infrastructure to process payments for publications through this solar site, so we rely on a partner organisation for this.
For more details and specifics on each of these points, we recommend you checkout the very thorough page on Low Tech Magazine.
Thoughts and ideas from:
- Chester, M. (2021). What Are Solar Panels Made Of, and How Are They Made? https://www.ecowatch.com/what-are-solar-panels-made-of-2654666445.html
- Coyier, C. (2020). Thinking About Power Usage and Websites. https://css-tricks.com/thinking-about-power-usage-and-websites/
- Griffiths. S. (2020). Why your internet habits are not as clean as you think. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200305-why-your-internet-habits-are-not-as-clean-as-you-think
- Lenox, J. (2019). How Improving Website Performance Can Help Save The Planet. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2019/01/save-planet-improving-website-performance/