by RP Siegel — We hear a lot about smart technology these days: smart cars, smart cities, smart grid, etc., with an implied promise that these smart things will be far more efficient than their less gifted predecessors, thereby allowing us to reduce carbon emissions. Of course, those claims are generally being made by those selling the smart things, so then it’s fair to ask, how much of this is simply hype?
While the British telecommunications giant BT, is not exactly an objective source, their recent report, entitled, “The role of ICT in reducing carbon emissions in the EU,” takes an in-depth look at the opportunities being offered and then projects those savings forward. The results are certainly impressive. While technology alone cannot solve the problem, it can play a significant role, though clearly there will be commitments and investments required to realize this potential.
The report builds on the SMARTer 2030 report produced by GeSI with Accenture, which showed that globally, ICT could potentially hold 2030 emissions at 2015 levels. This report looks specifically at the EU, which is further along the path than many other places, has more resources, and perhaps commitment as well to allow it to go further.
According to the report, information and communications technology, or ICT, can potentially save 1.5 GT of CO2e in the year 2030. That’s fully 2.7 times greater than the full carbon emissions of the UK in 2012, and 37% of the EU’s 2012 emissions. Of course, we know that all those server farms and cell towers use a lot of energy themselves, but according to the report, the ICT emissions overhead is only about 5.3%.
Just over half of those savings will be from various forms of energy efficiency, including but not limited to “letting your fingers do the walking.” Another 20% will come from renewables. At stake is $757 billion (£525bn, €675bn)in additional revenues and $718 billion (£498bn, €640bn) in cost savings. The report makes no mention of the level of investment required to achieve this level of ICT penetration, though, given the size of the opportunity, it is suggested that companies will want to invest in this in their own self-interest.
The report breaks down the opportunities into eight contributing sectors (in order of contribution): Manufacturing, Energy, Buildings, Mobility & Logistics, Food, Work & Business, Health, and Learning.
Manufacturing alone represent 31% of the opportunity. When combined with Energy and Buildings, that accounts for almost 75%; Mobility and Food bring it up to 92%. Those are clearly the areas of greatest opportunity.
Here are some examples. In manufacturing, the emphasis will be on reducing waste, increased automation and process optimization. The circular economy will play a big role here with each plant well-connected to their supply chain. For instance, Jaguar’s REALCAR initiative aims to use 75% recycled aluminum mostly from press shop scrap from their own suppliers.
In buildings, improved controls and connected sensors will substantially reduce energy waste in heating, cooling and lighting. Integration of thermal storage and other demand reduction measures will save energy throughout the system.
In energy, predictive analytics will help utilities match supply with demand. That will in turn allow them to optimize the use of renewables. On the demand side, smart appliances and commercial equipment will help “shave the peaks” in demand which tend to be so costly and inefficient to utilities to keep up with.
In mobility, traffic flow (think smart traffic lights) and parking solutions (like the one being developed in Milton Keynes) will keep traffic moving efficiently and smoothly. Mobile apps will facilitate the use of alternative of modes of transport, ranging from walking to biking, to ride-sharing services and more conventional forms of public transportation. Virtually all of these will be cleaner than today’s primary options.
Of course, little of this will happen unless people appreciate the value and ask for it. That includes everyone from consumers, to business leaders to government representatives.
Specifically, the report, which was written with companies in mind, says, “companies should focus on viewing ICT as an enabler across their value chain, and look to understand, in detail, how ICT can help them to reduce emissions through greater energy efficiency, use of renewables, or operational improvements. Cross-sector collaboration, between ICT and non-ICT companies, will help organisations understand the value and potential of ICT within and across their value chains and operations. This collaboration will be critical in driving the greatest benefits of adoption.”