IT Leaders Set Major Efficiency Goals with Green Touch

Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent’s research arm, is spearheading a major research consortium, called Green Touch, which includes academic and government-funded research labs, telecommunications service providers and chip makers. The organizations are putting their efforts toward creating technologies needed to make communications networks 1,000 times more energy efficient than they are today. The effort was announced today at a press conference in London.

Ben Verwaayen, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, said that despite the energy-savings innovations made to date, the total carbon footprint from information and communication technology (ICT) networks is still growing. “And if we don’t do something radical, it will go up even further,” he said.

Researchers at Bell Labs set the goal of a thousand-fold reduction in energy consumption by considering “the fundamental properties of ICT networks and technologies (optical, wireless, electronics, processing, routing, and architecture) and studying their physical limits,” according to a statement Alcatel-Lucent. Making communications networks 1000 times more efficient would mean that the amount of energy needed to power the world’s communications networks, including the Internet, for three years would be equal to what is currently required to run them for a single day.

The Green Touch project has received a long list of endorsements from government leaders, including US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, as well as from South Korean, English, French and Portuguese leaders. But the rubber will hit the road when the Green Touch founding members — which include AT&T, Swisscom, Telefonica, MIT’s Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE), Bell Labs, Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) and Freescale Semiconductor — break out the lab coats and get to work.

Vernon Turner, a telecommunications and sustainability analyst at research firm IDC, called the Green Touch goal both “hugely ambitious” and “rooted in hard science.” The consortium’s “global profile and multi-disciplinary approach will accelerate the necessary fundamental rethinking and development of new technologies,” he added.

The members have committed to delivering reference network architecture within five years, which will demonstrate key components required to make the energy efficiencies required in ITC networks. These changes will need to go well beyond “incremental efficiency improvements,” said Gee Rittenhouse, vice president of research at Bell Labs and consortium lead, because ICT network usage is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years, as industries look to telecommunications as a means of reducing their carbon footprints.

The consortium’s first meeting is planned for next month.

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to www.mcoconnor.com.

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