Siemens Press Picture
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.