Why Do Yahoo Email Users Consume 11 Percent More Energy Than Gmail Users?

by Max Frankel

Here’s an interesting statistic: Internet users who have email accounts with Yahoo! use about 11% more electricity than users with Gmail accounts from Google, according to the energy efficiency company Opower.

As Opower’s Barry Fischer points out on the company’s new data blog, that difference in energy consumption is equal to the annual electricity consumption of Barbados.

Both email systems have over 1 million subscribers, representing a wide swath of America. So what can differences in users’ energy habits tell us about them as customers?

It’s not differences in geography. If all Yahoo! users were living in one climate and all Gmail users lived in another more moderate environment, that might explain such a wide disparity. But that’s not the case. The 1.1 million users Opower examined for the study were distributed across 23 different states, so environment and climate differences don’t explain the difference.

Age and lifestyle may give us some clues. Opower uncovered some fascinating data on these factors. The typical Yahoo! subscriber is older than the typical Gmailer — 38 versus 34. Yahoo! users are also more likely to live in suburban or rural areas, which, according to a 2009 American Housing Survey, are 7–13 percent larger than the city dwellings that Gmail users inhabit, which explains some of the extra electricity consumption.

But it turns out Yahoo! users also consume as much as 12 percent more energy per square foot.

Gmail users are, on average, younger, more likely to be single, more avid travelers (meaning time out of the house lowers local energy consumption), and up to 30 percent “more likely than Yahoo users to sign up for an in-depth analysis of how they can reduce their energy usage.”

Turns out, Yahoo! users and Gmail users lead fairly different lives. By applying these sociological differences to energy data, we can get a slightly better glimpse into the behavior of consumers.

— Max Frankel is a senior at Vassar College and a CAP intern.