Clean Energy Ties to Technology

By Sarah Sorensen
June 30, 2009

In my last blog, I discussed the U.S. Clean Energy and Security Act that passed the House and is now up for debate in the Senate. Legislation of this kind is key to understanding future technology trends and requirements, particularly around Green Tech. For example, its passage could spur greater investment in teleconferencing technologies, accelerate smart grid projects and increase interest in building automation tools.

Why? Because all of these technologies have the potential to abate carbon emissions, which will be critical to the efforts to achieve reduction targets. The "Smart 2020 Report" estimated that the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry could cut annual CO2 emissions in the U.S. between 13 percent and 22 percent through 2020, translating into gross fuel and energy savings of between $140 billion and $240 billion.

Getting down to specifics, transportation is one of the biggest causes of carbon emissions, with automobiles alone accounting for approximately 20% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. Using technologies, such as Web and video conferencing and remote access solutions that enable employees to securely connect into their company's network to access the information and resources they need to do their jobs, can reduce daily commutes into the office and subsequent emissions.

The Consumer Electronics Association found that telecommuting in the U.S. saves nine to fourteen billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually, reducing gasoline consumption by 840 million gallons, which represents close to 14 million tonnes of carbon emissions. Combine this statistic with the U.S. Census Bureau's research that found 9 out 10 workers drive to work and 78% are solo drivers, and you can start to see the potential for significant reductions. Even if employees just telecommuted one day a week, organizations could reap great benefits. For example, Sun Microsystems has more than half of its employees (approximately 20,000 employees) working from home at least one or two days a week under their "Open Work" program, resulting in reductions of approximately 31,000 tons of CO2 emissions. (To learn more about the benefits of their program check out InformationWeek's story.)

The same dramatic savings can be achieved with the roll out of smart energy grids that modernize power generation and distribution to make the overall electric system more stable. It hinges on smart meter and reliable networking technologies, among other solutions, to link energy sources and destinations to achieve a real-time understanding of supply and demand, and then facilitate more granular controls and automated responses to better manage the overall system. We have seen glimpses of its potential. As reported in the New York Times, the Department of Energy conducted a trial in Washington State that demonstrated 15% reductions in consumption due to the visibility, efficiencies, and control of the system made possible by the smart grid.

The same benefits can be applied to buildings (both commercial and residential), which account for 40% of the emissions in the U.S. Through the use of building management systems, metering technologies, sensors, energy auditing and optimization software all connected by the communication networks there is a lot of potential to eke out energy consumption efficiencies. For example, the European Union estimates that close to a quarter (70 billion of the 400 billion kWh) of the energy consumed in homes could be saved by these measures. And we can't forget the mecca of building inefficiencies - the data center, which represent a proverbial treasure trove of opportunity to reduce consumption through the deployment of more efficient technologies and architectures(that's a future blog unto itself).

The list of the ways in which technology can be applied to drive efficiencies and abate carbon emissions goes on and on. But this technology needs to be considered in the context of policy; just as policy needs to be considered in the context of its potential economic impacts; just as economic conditions need to be considered when developing and delivering technology, and so on. They are all tied together. Only when considered as an eco-system, will we have a sustainable model to effectively tackle clean energy and climate change issues.

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