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ICT can be used to save energy in "smart" buildings

Combating climate change

Enabling the low-carbon economy in the information age

Luis Neves, Chair of GeSI, and Steve Howard, CEO of The Climate Group


The ICT industry is a key driver of low-carbon growth and can lead transformation towards a low-carbon economy and society.
Luis Neves, Chairman of GeSI
Head of Sustainable Development and Environment, Deutsche Telekom

The most recent results presented by climate scientists are alarming. The accumulation of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere is growing faster than predicted. Scientists, economists and policy-makers are calling for emission targets of at least 20 per cent below 1990 levels in 2020.

As a growing sector, it is clear that the impacts of information and communication technologies (ICT) on climate change need to be understood. The report “SMART 2020 — Enabling the low-carbon economy in the information age” found that, although its own products and services contribute 2 per cent of global emissions today, a future-oriented ICT industry can respond quickly to the challenge of global warming. It has a critical role to play, with other sectors, in designing and deploying the solutions needed to create a low-carbon society. The report was published in June 2008 by The Climate Group on behalf of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI). It was introduced to participants at ITU’s second international symposium on "ICT and Climate Change", held in London on 17–18 June 2008.

The report shows that greenhouse gas emissions from the ICT sector are estimated to rise significantly, from 0.53 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2002, to 1.43 billion tonnes in 2020, if we remain on a path of business as usual. But it also identifies many opportunities for the ICT industry to replace goods and services with virtual equivalents and to provide technology that improves energy efficiency. The real opportunity is for ICT to enable efficiency — and therefore emission reductions — across the economy in such areas as logistics, buildings, the power grid and motor systems. We now have evidence that the ICT industry is a key player in creating a low-carbon society and can do a lot more to help push the world in this direction by 2020.

ICT can cut global emissions

The Climate Group

Consumers and businesses can’t manage what they can’t measure. ICT provides the solutions that enable us to 'see' our energy and emissions in real time, and could provide the means for optimizing systems and processes to make them more efficient.
Steve Howard
CEO, The Climate Group

The “SMART 2020” report looks at where ICT could enable significant reductions to be made in the CO2 equivalent emissions of other sectors of the economy, and has quantified these in terms of cost savings. Aside from emissions associated with agriculture and deforestation, the largest contribution to man-made greenhouse gas emissions comes from power generation and the fuel used for transport. ICT can help improve energy efficiency in power transmission and distribution, in buildings and factories, and in the delivery of goods.

ICT could save 15 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions expected in 2020 if business continues as usual — or 7.8 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent out of an assumed total of 51.9 billion tonnes. This represents a significant proportion of the reductions below 1990 levels that scientists and economists recommend by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change. In economic terms, the more efficient use of energy enabled by ICT would translate into cost savings of some USD 946.5 billion (at December 2007 rates).

Given the unpredictable nature of technological innovation, there is always uncertainty in estimating future impacts, and the report describes a number of hurdles to overcome in order to realize the large savings it identifies. Furthermore, the ICT sector will have to focus on reducing its direct footprint as the demand for its products and services grows.

Standardization — a crucial factor

Standardization is a crucial step that leads to the ultimate goal of the “smart transformation” of our economies. It goes without saying that ITU has a very important role to play in this area, and it has already made climate change a priority in its work. Energy consumption should be an important component of all technical standards within the ICT sector itself. And we need to ensure that measurement methods are standardized across the whole life of products and services, in order to understand how much greenhouse gas is emitted at each stage.

One of the reasons for the ICT sector’s success is that it has developed layers of internationally standardized ways for machines to communicate with one another — from international dialling codes to Internet domain names. In other industrial sectors too, protocols must be developed to enable smart systems to interact.

Interoperable protocols allowing for communication among devices and applications, as well as the standardization of information exchange, would allow more effective monitoring, control and minimization of energy use and carbon emissions. They would enable, for example, communication between refrigerators and smart electricity meters, thermostats and generation facilities, or global navigation systems and delivery trucks. Already, ITU is developing standards to support scientific monitoring, networking in cars, and other areas.

A “SMART” future

The scale of emission reductions that could be achieved by the smart integration of ICT into new ways of living, working, learning and travelling makes the sector a key player in the fight against climate change, despite its own growing carbon footprint. No other sector can supply technology capabilities so integral to energy efficiency, and across such a range of other industries.

The report notes that by standardizing (S), monitoring (M) and accounting (A) for energy consumption, and by rethinking (R) how economies should operate, we can transform (T) the way we live and work. This all adds up to a “SMART” future. As a way forward, the report recommends implementation of the SMART framework it proposes, and outlines key actions required by the ICT sector, governments and industry leaders.

GeSI and the Climate Group will be taking the report’s findings to the United States, China, India and Europe to work with decision-makers and leading companies to develop a vision of how to turn the ideas presented in the “SMART 2020” report into a global reality.

The Global Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) is an international, strategic partnership of businesses and industry associations in the ICT sector, together with non-governmental organizations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF). Formed in 2001, GeSI is a partner of ITU, as well as of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Business Council of Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

The Climate Group is an independent, not-for-profit organization that works internationally with government and business leaders to advance climate change solutions and accelerate a low-carbon economy. It was founded in 2004 and has offices in Australia, China, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States.



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