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Even if the industry were able to shift to 100 per cent renewable electricity, the volume of energy they would need would put intolerable pressure on the world’s power systems. He points to a study focused on Japan which suggests that its data centres would consume its entire electricity supply by 2030 if growth continues at today’s rate.

Whether you’re “liking” something on Facebook, streaming the latest Tarantino movie or posting an instagram from the pub, every internet activity involves huge amounts of data that needs to be stored somewhere.

And as the “internet of everything” brings innovations such as driverless cars and high-definition video watches ever closer, the vast network of data centres that have sprung up in the past decade will spread.

As a result, analysts forecast that data centres will consume roughly treble the amount of electricity in the next decade.

One way to curb their carbon footprint is to increase the amount of renewable energy they use – a development that is already under way but has much, much further to go to offset the exponential growth in internet traffic, experts say.

“This would make it impossible to make the transition to renewable energy in time to prevent runaway climate change.” But the sheer size of the problem also provides an opportunity for the data centre industry to lead a revolution in renewable energy, which will help drive down costs for everyone, Mr Cook said.

“The sector is critical to the development of renewable energy.

It’s a great example of the Jevons paradox – the easier you make it to consume the product the greater the consumption will be.” Unless there is some kind of game-changing breakthrough on data storage – such as the development of a far-superior alternative to silicon – the world’s internet use is eventually going to have to be significantly rationed.

Professor Bitterlin added that a form of carbon known as graphene could potentially revolutionise data storage.

The roll-out is primarily designed to help small businesses, but the bulk of the faster internet access is enjoyed by consumers.

And some internet companies – such as Facebook, Google and Apple – are leading efforts to be more environmentally responsible.

This wouldn’t be a problem if these facilities – which range from a small room with a few servers to vast 150,000 square metre “farms” – didn’t consume such enormous amounts of energy.