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Chess must be a very "green" sport, the resource demand is minimal. But then, lately online chess is in vogue, and servers eat amps.

Any estimation how much energy online chess is consuming worldwide?

Side note: I created a tag "society" for "Chess and Society" issues, for lack of a better idea.

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    reddit.com/r/chess/comments/10jjsyz/… has a link to a spreadsheet detailing Lichess' running costs. You can probably wave your hands from there. The answer will be "bugger all compared to cryptocurrency mining"
    – Ian Bush
    Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 20:20
  • This is going to be an extremely complicated question based off a lot of assumptions. Looking at some usage statistics , Chess.com might see 10m games a day and Lichess around 5m a games a day. Not insignificant numbers but definitely not the main contributors. The number of servers can scale horizontally , from what i can see so an accurate count is a little tricky. The real numbers arent in the server usage though. They will be in the individuals and their own personal devices.
    – Dheebs
    Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 21:45
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    This looks like it's about chess within the scope defined in the help center, so I'm voting to reopen (the help center says "Questions that have to do primarily with chess in its standard form are on-topic here", and goes on to list physical items as within scope).
    – Allure
    Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 5:44
  • @Hauke Reddman, I made a mistake on this one. Allure is right. mea culpa Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 13:29
  • Are you specifically interested in the carbon footprint of online chess specifically (as the body of the question seems to specify) or about the global carbon footprint of chess as a sport (as the title and the first sentence seems to infer) ?
    – Evargalo
    Commented Nov 22, 2023 at 8:25

1 Answer 1

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I am going to preface this by saying I'm somewhat reluctant to "answer" this as there there is no way this can be definitively answered. We can however make some reasonable assumptions off some known points and look at the two biggest online providers, Lichess and Chess.com.

Figures as of 2023:

  • Lichess has ~5,000,000 games a day
  • Chess.com ~10,000,000 games a day

To provide these services:

  • Lichess has approximately 35 servers
  • Chess.com appears to be partially cloud based and scales horizontally.
    • however we can semi-reasonably just double the known lichess infrastructure. 70.

105 servers

Servers similar/same to the ones being utilised by lichess and chess.com generally 1900 - 2100 kwH annually ,

2000 * 105 = 210000kwH/year

Each kwH generates approximately 300grams of CO2 emissions.

so 210,000 * 0.300 = 63,000/year >> 63 Tonnes/year of CO2 emissions. This is 0.0042

This Means 15,000,000 Games a Day >> 172kg of CO2 emissions per Day 0.0115 Grams of CO2 Per Game.

What needs to be understood is that there is a 2 way transaction that is occurring. There is a provider , but generally each game requires 2 users.

We have no way of reasonably calculating the users usage / consumption and kwH , so the best we can reasonably do is use the figures we ball parked from the providers. So for 2 users and a provider

((3*172) * 365.22 ) = 188469 >> 188.5 Tonnes of CO2

188.5 Tonnes for 5.5 Billion Games

Again; this can't be definitively answered. This is only something to get thoughts happening.

Points of Consideration:

  • Carbon emissions are based of US emissions per kwH, countries such as Australia that uses coal as a primary power producer, would be higher.
  • As previously states this is factoring in the Users. This is going to be the significant factor and at this point in time I cant see an adequate way to tackle this problem without significant data dumps from providers. Generally speaking however, user will use more kwH/game than the providers generally speaking. So these figures could potentially be interpreted as a "starting" point.
  • Only looking at Chess.com and Lichess, which doesnt factor in all the other chess providers, the power consumption etc which occurs in OTB tournaments. -This is only looking at the power estimates per game and not other factors such as general power consumption for lighting heating etc.
  • Most larger data centres have cost saving mechanisms for things like power. They generally live in big long buildings with a lot of roof area...ripe for solar panels.
  • Most Server Hosting companies provide "eco-power" models where you may pay fractionally more for "green power".

All units are either universal or metric, eg Tonnes is the metric tonne of 1000kg

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    Note that those 0.0115 grams are negligible with respect to the CO2 generated by the two players breathing: if the game lasts 10 minutes, that's 14 grams. Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 22:52
  • @FedericoPoloni kind of. You'd be quite surprised at individual breathing rates. 15 to 20 breathes per minute. If i remember correctly is something like 1 kilo and change per person per day of co2 just breathing at resting metabolic rate. Its been well over a decade though since i've done sport science stuff though. But your general assumption off negligible s pretty reasonable. Not blame shifting etc, but if online chess is considered a problem for golobal emissions we are royally screwed. So much more contributing that can be easily rectified.
    – Dheebs
    Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 23:02
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    While not an 'answer' it seems to do a pretty good job of estimating the lower limit. It is tempting to try a similar estimate for major FIDE events ... but perhaps arrangers already do that?
    – user30536
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 6:53
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    Thanks for the estimation - a more precise answer isn't possible, but then, it isn't needed either. Conclusio: we chessplayers still are green :-) Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 7:59
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    1. Besides the electric consumption of servers, we should also factor in the carbon footprint of their construction (and their disposal when they become out-of-order) 2. Certainly the highest CO2 contribution of chess are the airplane flights for tournaments, but it is unclear to me whether or not the question is limited to online chess.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 8:03

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