At Microsoft, we see information and communication technologies (ICT) as a key tool to help address
the daunting energy and climate challenges the
world faces. Microsoft envisions a clean energy ecosystem
where information technology:
This vision is increasingly shared by environmental
organizations, government policy-makers and industry
leaders. As a recent climate report by the World
Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)1 noted, “there is probably
no other sector where the opportunity to provide
solutions with dramatic emission reduction potential
is as significant” as in the ICT sector. A recent study
by the consultancy McKinsey & Company found that
using ICT, society can eliminate 7.8 gigatons of carbon
emissions annually by 2020, an amount greater than
is currently released by all sources in the United States.
As a foundation for these contributions, the ICT
industry must work to increase the computing output
and ICT solutions available to society, while holding
down its own energy use and carbon footprint.
Advances in hardware and software have dramatically
increased the energy efficiency of computing.
The leading energy-efficient laptops now entering
the market use less energy than a single compact fluorescent
light bulb. However, with more than 1 billion
computers on the planet and 250 million new
laptops, desktops and servers deployed each year,
the ICT industry must continue improving the energy
efficiency of its products.
Beyond reducing our own footprint, however,
the ICT industry has unique contributions to make to
environmental sustainability. ICT are unique in their
ability to enable individuals, communities, organizations,
scientists and policy-makers to assess and understand
the impact of their actions across complex
systems. Solutions that combine the power of high-performance,
cloud-based computing with broadly
available technologies (such as mobile phones and personal computers) can enable individuals and organizations to take action that reduces effects on society
and the planet.
ICT can play a critical role in enabling emission
reductions in a wide range of sectors, from building
management to telecommuting, without dramatic
breakthroughs in new technology. A recent WWF
study* found that increasing virtual meetings and
telecommuting could eliminate more than 3 billion
tons of CO2 emissions over the next few decades. “A
webcam-equipped laptop and mobile and wireless
connectivity, as well as effective and secure software,
are the key technical requirements for teleworking,”
the study noted. “These solutions already exist, and
the sooner a broad deployment can take place the
faster significant reductions can be achieved.” In our
own experience at Microsoft, we found that by encouraging
employees to use our unified communications
telework tools in place of travel, we reduced
travel per employee by 10 per cent in the fiscal year
2008, eliminating 100 million miles of air travel and
17 000 metric tons of CO2 emissions.
The power of software combined with increasingly
smart appliances and inexpensive sensors can
also make an important difference in how people
understand and change their energy use at home.
A critical first step is to provide households with a
real-time view of their energy use, as opposed to
feedback from utility bills that lag by a month or
more. We envision easy-to-use “control panels” on
home computers and mobile phones that let people
manage their household appliances, heat and lighting
from any location. Ultimately, intelligent control
systems will optimize home energy use based on the
weather reports and a host of other factors. Such systems could, for example, sense your location from
your mobile phone and begin heating or cooling your
house as you begin your commute home.
One of the ways Microsoft is working to offer solutions
to address residential energy use is through a
free online cloud-based application called Microsoft®
Hohm™ that enables consumers to better understand
their energy usage. Hohm provides consumers
with personalized energy savings recommendations,
and we are partnering with utilities to provide automated
data feeds that enable users to analyse their
energy consumption and track improvements.
A long-term sustainable energy future will require
a transition to zero-carbon energy sources over the
next 20 years. ICT have a key role to play in enabling
this transition, from supporting breakthroughs in energy
research to managing an increasingly distributed
set of energy sources feeding into the electrical grid.
One challenge we face using renewable sources
of energy is that their availability is intermittent:
the sun does not always shine and the wind does
not always blow. ICT can help smooth these energy fluctuations by enabling demand elasticity — shifting
demand from when electricity is scarce and expensive
to times when it is more available and cheaper
— at the scales needed to integrate renewable energy
sources into the grid. ICT-enabled appliances,
combined with smart meters and informed consumers,
can shift energy demand from non-time-sensitive
uses to periods of peak wind or solar generation. The
growth potential of plug-in electric vehicles makes
the issue of demand elasticity particularly important.
Ford Motor Company recently took steps to address
this issue with a pilot version of a vehicle-to-electric
grid communications and control system that enables
vehicle operators to program when to recharge
their vehicle, for how long and at what utility rate.
Software is helping scientists model and perfect
cleaner energy sources. For example, complex
data-intensive modelling, called computational fluid
dynamics, has significantly improved the design and
placement of wind turbines to maximize their generation
efficiency. Scientists are using computer modelling
to design improved alloys for solar photovoltaic
cells. Researchers at the San Diego Supercomputer
Center have created models of “virtual molecules”
to study how to speed reactions that can produce
cellulosic ethanol from farm waste, and researchers
at the University of California, Berkeley, are applying
computer modelling to improve the efficiency of hydrogen
Finally, transitioning to a clean energy economy
requires the ability to track and manage emissions
by organization, by geography, and potentially by
individual products across their supply chain and lifecycle.
ICT tools that support this capability will allow
organizations to set carbon reduction goals and
track their progress, and consumers to choose which
products or services they buy based on a business’s carbon footprint. In support, Microsft has added a
new Environmental Sustainability Dashboard to the
Microsoft Dynamics® AX enterprise resource planning
system to allow small and medium-sized businesses
to measure and manage their carbon footprint
using data from their utility bills. Together with
the Clinton Climate Initiative, we provide a free Webbased
tool that enables the world’s largest cities to
monitor and reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions.
Microsoft is also collaborating with the Carbon
Disclosure Project, an independent not-for-profit organization
that holds the world’s largest database
of corporate climate change information, to enable
companies to report this information in a more detailed
and standardized way.
To fully optimize the contribution that ICT can
make to a sustainable energy economy, policy-makers
should seek ways to:
Lead by example
Governments can help save energy and benefit
the environment by applying power management
and virtualization to their ICT infrastructure and by promoting telework. These initiatives can yield
significant cost savings and efficiency gains, while
demonstrating best practice and helping build the
market for ICT solutions that reduce energy use.
Invest in basic research, enabling infrastructure and new technologies
Governments need to adequately fund basic
scientific research and research into renewable
and sustainable low-carbon energy sources.
Governments can leverage the power of cloud
computing by subsidizing infrastructure, such as
the wide-scale broadband connectivity and broad
deployment of smart meters necessary for many
ICT-enabled energy solutions.
Reform energy regulations to foster demand-side management
Regulators who oversee energy generation and
distribution should consider adopting real-time
pricing policies that open the market for demand-side
management. Ensuring that individuals and
third parties have access to energy usage and
pricing information, subject to appropriate privacy
protections, will spark innovation as businesses
compete to use these data and drive reductions in
energy and CO2.
Promote broadly accessible solutions
A sustainable energy ecosystem should seek to
harness the power of widely available technologies
such as those for mobile phones and personal
computers. Policies to promote connectivity
and broadband access help to enable wide participation
in a sustainable energy ecosystem. To
foster innovation, policy-makers should ensure
that smart grids and other energy and environmental
ICT applications promote security, privacy
and interoperability, without mandating the use
of specific technologies.
Achieving long-term growth that is economically
and environmentally sustainable will require
dramatic shifts in our energy ecosystem. We believe
that ICT have a vital role to play in enabling
these shifts, by allowing economies to operate far
more efficiently and by accelerating the innovation
needed to reach the next generation of renewable
zero-carbon energy sources. The world’s most powerful
supercomputers and broadly available existing
technologies all have a role to play in enabling a
clean energy ecosystem.
About the author
Anoop Gupta guides Microsoft’s engagement with governments and institutions around the world
regarding the company’s vision of upcoming technology innovations and the policies and regulations
that might maximize their benefits for citizens. From 2007 to 2009, he served as corporate vice president
of the Unlimited Potential Group and Education Products, following four years as vice president of the Unified Communications
Group. Before this, he was technology assistant to Bill Gates, Microsoft’s Chairman.
Mr Gupta was a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford University for 11 years prior to joining
Microsoft in 1997. He has published more than 100 research papers and has contributed to more than 50 patents.
Mr Gupta received his Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in 1986. He holds a bachelor’s degree in
electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.
1 Outline for the First Global IT Strategy for CO2 Reductions”: WWF, 2008.
2 From workplace to anyplace”: WWF, 2009.