Saturday , May 8 2021

How to build a low-tech website?

Read this article on the solar energy website.

Why a low-tech website?

We were told that the Internet would "dematerialize" society and reduce energy consumption. Contrary to this projection, it has become a large rapidly growing consumer of energy itself. According to the latest estimates, the entire network already consumes 10% of global electricity production, with data traffic doubling to approximately every two years.

In order to compensate for the negative consequences associated with high energy consumption, renewable energy has been proposed as a means of reducing emissions from feed data centers. For example, Greenpeace's annual ClickClean report brings together leading Internet companies based on their use of renewable energy sources.

However, the management of data centers on renewable energy sources is not sufficient to cope with the growing use of Internet energy. For starters, the Internet already uses three times more energy than all the wind and solar sources in the world can provide. Furthermore, the production and regular replacement of renewable energy plants require energy, which means that if data traffic continues to grow, even the use of fossil fuels.

The running of data centers on renewable energy sources is not sufficient to deal with the increasing use of Internet energy.

Finally, solar and wind energy are not always available, which means that the Internet running on renewable energy sources would require infrastructures for the storage and / or transmission of energy that also depends on fossil fuels for its production and replacement. . Feeding websites with renewable energy is not a bad idea, but we must also take into account the growth trend of energy consumption.

"Larger" websites

For starters, the content is becoming increasingly resource-intensive. This has a lot to do with the increasing importance of video, but a similar trend can be observed between websites.

The size of the average web page (defined as the average page size of the 500,000 most popular domains) increased from 0.45 megabytes (MB) in 2010 to 1.7 megabytes in June 2018. For mobile websites, the "weight of the "average" page has increased tenfold from 0.15 MB in 2011 to 1.6 MB in 2018. Using different measurement methods, other sources report average page sizes up to 2.9 MB in 2018.

The growth of data traffic outweighs the progress of energy efficiency (the energy needed to transfer 1 megabyte of data over the Internet), resulting in an increase in energy consumption. "Heavier" or "bigger" websites not only increase the power consumption in the network infrastructure, but also reduce the life of computers: larger websites require more powerful computers to access them. This means that it is necessary to produce more computers, which is an energy-intensive process.

Being always online does not combine well with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy, which are not always available.

A second reason for the growth of Internet energy consumption is that we spend more and more time online. Before the arrival of portable computing devices and access to the wireless network, we were connected to the network only when we had access to a desktop computer in the office, at home or in the library. Now we live in a world where no matter where we are, we are always online, including, sometimes, through multiple devices at the same time.

"Always-on" Internet access is accompanied by a cloud computing model, which allows more energy-efficient devices to be used at the expense of greater energy use in data centers. Increasingly, activities that could perfectly happen off-line, such as writing a document, compiling a spreadsheet or storing data, now require continuous access to the network. This does not combine well with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy, which are not always available.

Low-tech web design

Our new web design addresses both these problems. Thanks to a low-tech Web design, we were able to reduce the average size of the blog page by a factor of five compared to the old design, all making the site visually more attractive (and optimized for mobile devices). Secondly, our new website works 100% on solar energy, not just in words, but actually: it has its own energy accumulation and will go off-line during long periods of cloudy weather.

The Internet is not an autonomous being. Its growing use of energy is the result of the actual decisions made by software developers, web designers, marketing departments, publishers and Internet users. With a light site, off the solar network, we want to show that other decisions can be made.

With 36 of around 100 articles now online, the average page weight on the solar-powered website is about five times lower than in the previous project.

To begin with, the new website design reverses the trend towards ever larger pages. With 36 of about 100 articles now online, the average page weight on the solar-powered website is 0.77 MB – about five times lower than the previous project and less than half the average size of the 500,000 page page more popular in June 2018.

A web page speed test from the old and the new low-tech magazine. The page size has dropped more than six times, the number of requests has decreased fivefold and the download speed has increased tenfold. Note that we did not design the website for speed, but for low power usage. It would be even faster if the server were located in a data center and / or in a more central location of the Internet infrastructure.



Source: Pingdom.

Static site

One of the fundamental choices we made was the construction of a static website. Most Web sites today use server-side programming languages ​​that generate the website on the fly by querying a database. This means that every time someone visits a Web page, it is generated on request.

On the other hand, a static website is generated once and exists as a simple set of documents on the server's hard drive. It's always there – not just when someone visits the page. Static websites are therefore based on file storage, while dynamic websites depend on recurring calculations. As a result, static websites require less processing power and therefore less power.

Choosing a static site allows you to serve the site in an economical way from our home office in Barcelona. Doing the same with a database-based website would be almost impossible, because it would require too much energy. It would also be a big security risk. Although a web server with a static site can be hacked, there are far fewer attack paths and the damage is more easily repaired.

Screenshot-solar energy server

Dithered images

The main challenge was to reduce the page size without making the site less attractive. Because the images take up most of the bandwidth, it would be easy to get very small pages and less power consumption by eliminating images, reducing their number or making them much smaller. However, images are an important part of the appeal of the low-tech magazine and the website would not be the same without them.

With dithering, we can make images ten times less expensive in terms of resources, even if they are much larger than the old website.

Instead, we chose to apply an obsolete image compression technique called "dithering". The number of colors in an image, combined with the format and resolution of the file, contributes to the size of an & # 39; image. Therefore, instead of using high-resolution color images, we have chosen to convert all images to black and white, with four levels of intermediate gray.

These black and white images are then colored according to the relevant content category using the native image manipulation capabilities of the browser. Compressed through this dithering plug-in, the images in the articles add much less load to the content: compared to the old website, the images are about ten times less expensive in terms of resources.

Default font / No logo

All resources loaded, including fonts and logos, are an additional request to the server, which requires storage space and power consumption. Therefore, our new website does not load a custom typeface and removes the font family declaration, which means visitors will see the browser default font.

Screenshot-solar-site energy

We use a similar approach to the logo. In fact, the low-tech magazine has never had a real logo, just a picture of a flag of a spear deemed a low-tech weapon against prevailing high-tech claims.

Instead of a designed logotype, which would require the production and distribution of custom characters and images, the new identity of Low-tech Magazine consists of a single typographic move: use the left arrow instead of the ipen in the name of the blog: LOW ← TECHNICAL REVIEW.

No third-party tracking, no advertising services, no cookies

Web analytics software such as Google Analytics records what happens on a website – which pages are most viewed, where visitors come from and so on. These services are popular because few people host their own website. However, the exchange of this data between the server and the webmaster's computer generates further data traffic and therefore energy consumption.

With a self-hosted server, we can realize and display these measurements on the same machine: each web server generates logs of what happens on the computer. These (anonymous) records are only displayed by us and are not used to profile visitors.

With a self-hosted server, no third-party tracking and cookies are required.

The low-tech magazine publishes advertisements of Google Adsense from the beginning of 2007. Although these are an important financial resource to maintain the blog, they have two important negative aspects. The first is the use of energy: advertising services increase data traffic and therefore the use of energy.

Secondly, Google collects information from visitors to the blog, which forces us to develop exhaustive privacy statements and cookie warnings, which also consume data and annoy visitors. Therefore, we replace Adsense with other financing options (see below). We do not use any cookies at all.

How often will the website be off-line?

A lot of web hosting companies claim that their servers work with renewable energy. However, even when they generate solar power on site and do not just "offset" the use of fossil fuel energy by planting trees or the like, their websites are always online.

This means that they have a huge system of accumulation of batteries on site (which makes their power system unbearable), or that rely on the network when there is a lack of solar energy (which means they do not really work on 100% solar energy).

Screenshot-solar server panels

The 50W photovoltaic solar panel. Above is a 10W panel that powers a lighting system.

In contrast, this website works on an off-the-grid solar power system with its own energy storage, and will go off-line during longer periods of cloudy weather. Less than 100% reliability is essential for the sustainability of an off-grid solar system, because above a certain threshold the fossil energy used to produce and replace batteries is higher than the fossil energy saved by panels solar.

How often the website will be off-line remains to be seen. The Web server is now powered by a new 50 Wp solar panel and a two-year 12V 7Ah lead-acid battery. Since the solar panel is shaded during the morning, it receives direct sunlight for only 4-6 hours a day. Under optimal conditions, the solar panel generates 6 hours x 50 watts = 300 Wh of electricity.

The web server uses between 1 and 2.5 watts of power (depending on the number of visitors), which means it requires between 24 Wh and 60 Wh of electricity per day. In optimal conditions, we should therefore have enough power to keep the web server running for 24 hours a day. Excess energy production can be used for domestic applications.

We expect to keep the site online in one or two days of bad weather, after which it will go offline.

However, during cloudy days, especially in winter, the daily energy production could be as little as 4 hours x 10 watt = 40 watt-hour per day, while the server requires 24 and 60 Wh per day. The battery capacity is around 40 Wh, taking into account 30% of the charge and discharge losses and 33% of depth or discharge (the solar charge controller switches off the system when the battery voltage drops to 12V).

As a result, the solar powered server will remain online during one or two days of bad weather, but not for a longer period. However, this is estimates and we could add a second 7 Ah battery in the fall if necessary. Our goal is a 90% "uptime", which means that the website will be off-line for an average of 35 days in the year.


First prototype with lead-acid battery (12V 7Ah) on the left and Li-Po UPS battery (3.7 V 6600 mA) on the right. The lead-acid battery provides most of the energy memory, while the Li-Po battery allows the server to shut down without damaging the hardware (it will be replaced by a much smaller Li-Po battery).

When is the best time to visit?

The accessibility of this website depends on the weather conditions in Barcelona, ​​Spain, where the solar-powered web server is located. To help visitors "plan" their visits to the low-tech magazine, we provide them with several clues.

A battery gauge provides crucial information because it could tell the visitor that the blog is about to end – or that it is "safe" to read it. The design has a background color that indicates the capacity of the solar charge battery that powers the website server. A decreasing height indicates that the night has decreased or that the weather is bad.


In addition to the battery level, other information on the website server is visible with a statistics dashboard. This includes contextual information about the server location: weather, current sky conditions, upcoming forecasts, and how long the server has shut down due to insufficient power.

Computer hardware

SERVER. The website works on an Olimex A20 computer. This machine has 2 GHz of processing power, 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage space. The server absorbs 1 – 2.5 watts of power.

INTERNET CONNECTION. The server is connected to a 100 Mbps fiber-optic Internet connection. For now, the router is powered by the mains and requires 10 watts of power. We are studying how to replace the energy hungry router with a more efficient one that can also be powered by solar energy.

SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC SYSTEM The server works with a 50 Wp solar panel and a 12V 7Ah lead-acid battery (the energy storage capacity will be doubled at the end of this month). The system is managed by a 20 A solar charge controller.

Solar energy-server-in-stay

What happens to the old website?

The low-tech magazine powered by solar energy is a work in progress. For now, the low-tech magazine powered by the network remains online. Readers will be encouraged to visit the solar-powered website, if available. What happens next, it's not clear yet. There are several possibilities, but much will depend on the experience with the solar energy server.

Until we decide how to integrate the old and the new website, making and reading the comments will only be possible on the low-tech magazine powered by the network, which is still hosted on TypePad. If you want to send a comment related to the solar powered web server, you can do so by commenting on this page or by sending an e-mail to solar (at) lowtechmagazine (dot) com.

I can help?

Yes you can.

On the one hand, we are looking for ideas and feedback to further improve the website and reduce its energy consumption. We will document the project extensively so that others can also build low-tech websites.

On the other hand, we hope that people support this project with a financial contribution. Advertising services, which have maintained the Low-tech Magazine since its inception in 2007, are not compatible with our lightweight web design. Therefore, we are looking for other ways to finance the website:

  1. Soon we will offer print-on-demand copies of the blog. These publications will allow you to read the low-tech magazine on paper, on the beach, in the sun, or whenever and wherever you want.

  2. You can support us through PayPal, Patreon and LiberaPay.

  3. We remain open to advertising, but these can only take the form of a static banner image that refers to the advertiser's website. We do not accept advertisers that are incompatible with our mission.

The solar-powered server is a project by Kris De Decker, Roel Roscam Abbing and Marie Otsuka.

Related article: how to build a low-tech internet.

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