Monday, June 14, 2010

ITIF - "A digital world leads to less energy use, not more"

A new report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) on global warming and the green economy addresses the accusation that IT is a significant contributor to climate change:
“Sure, electronic devices and the infrastructure that support them consume a growing share of electricity and most of that electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels. But this energy consumption is dwarfed by IT’s current and growing capacity to reduce energy consumption and develop low-carbon alternatives. Think about how working from home and teleconferencing has cut down on carbon-intensive auto travel as more and more businesses and government agencies adopt these practices. Tens of millions of people are making fewer trips by car and plane every year. Or consider how our ability to condense vast amounts of information into compact forms is actually helping the environment. Let’s face it, it is much less carbon intensive to download a collection of songs onto your home computer than it is to drive to the mall and purchase a CD enclosed in that impossible plastic safe. In addition, as more of us become comfortable with digital formats and new formats like the Ipad emerge, we are consuming less paper. And as a result, less energy since paper manufacturing requires about 3,405 kilowatt-hours of energy to produce 100 tons of paper.”
Clearly, an effective broadband infrastructure is crucial to delivery of these benefits. There are other benefits too:
“Just as significant is the reduction in energy consumption that would come from adopting smart-grid technology and intelligent transportation systems. Globally, smart-grid technology would reduce $124.6 billion worth of emissions. In the transportation arena, the widespread adoption of an array of IT tools to reduce traffic congestion and maximize efficiency would also reduce emissions. For example, applying real-time traffic data to signal lights could reduce stops by 40 percent. This could cut gas consumption by 10 percent and cut emissions by 22 percent - a decrease in carbon dioxide emissions by 9,600 tons. Overall, for every unit of energy used by IT, six to 14 units of energy are saved in the overall economy.”
Whilst it's arguable that the bandwidth requirements needed for this kind of functionality are minimal, these examples nevertheless underline the importance of broadband as a pervasive, reliable and resilient utility. And if you're putting such infrastructure in place as widely as you can, necessitating a very significant investment, it's just plain common sense to do so in a way that provides as much headroom for growth as possible?

The report includes references to a number of other interesting reports:
  • Improving Quality of Life Through Telecommuting - also by the ITIF and available here - "....only a small minority of Americans with annual incomes of $30,000 or less have broadband service in their homes...This is the same group that loses out on job opportunities because of mobility issues and that could benefit significantly from jobs that would be open through telecommuting....opportunities and resulting benefits would be realized much sooner if public policy was used to accelerate the spread of broadband."
  • Digital Quality of Life - ITIF again, available here - "...policymakers must remain vigilant in ensuring that the components of our digital infrastructure, from global positioning system (GPS) signals to high-speed broadband Internet access, continue to be upgraded and improved."
  • Information and Communication Technologies: The Power of Productivity - American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), summary here (full report requires registration) - "Information and communications technologies have played a critical role in reducing energy waste and increasing energy efficiency throughout the economy.  From sensors and microprocessors to smart grid and virtualization technologies, a strong correlation is found among efficiency, productivity, and energy savings.  And while discrete technologies have successfully enabled significant energy savings, system-wide energy savings have also emerged from the growing ubiquity of ICT systems and technologies."
  • SMART 2020: Enabling the low carbon economy in the information age - Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), available here - “In total, ICTs could deliver approximately 7.8 GtCO2e of emissions savings in 2020. This represents 15% of emissions in 2020 based on a BAU estimation. It 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 ICT-enabled energy efficiency translates into approximately €600 billion ($946.5 billion) of cost savings. It is an opportunity that cannot be overlooked.”

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