The Industrial Revolution, and the technology that enabled it, has been one of the primary drivers of climate change. Yet it's another industrial revolution and a new set of technologies that look set to help humanity avoid the worst effects of global warming.
The demand for telco services has been rapidly growing for many years now. As a result, the challenge from an environmental perspective is huge. Compared to many other sectors, the telco industry is not the largest contributor of carbon emissions, but as we enter a complete digitized world, this is set to increase.
Many individuals, governments and organizations are working to find ways to reduce energy demand in a smarter way, encouraging new ideas for using existing and new ICT resources. If the sector gets it right, it can achieve sustainable growth and deliver smart solutions that will help mitigate climate change.
While ICTs are part of the overall issue, they are also vital to confronting the problems we face as a planet. Indeed, ICTs are a vital part of the solution. The industry has been at the forefront of innovation over the past few decades. We have the opportunity now to make it the forefront of the global battle against climate change.
Research from the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) suggests that ICT can enable a 20% reduction of global carbon emissions by 2030. What this means is that we have an opportunity to hold emissions levels where they are today.
ICTs can impact climate change in three primary ways:
• by driving down emissions in the ICT sector itself through the introduction of more efficient equipment and networks;
• by reducing emissions and enabling energy efficiency in other sectors through, for example, substituting for travel and replacing physical objects by electronic ones (dematerialization); and
• by helping both developed and developing countries adapt to the negative effects of climate change using ICT-based systems to monitor weather and the environment worldwide.
ICT players are working to find ways to reduce energy demand in a smarter way, encouraging new ideas for using existing and new IT resources. Due to the fast-paced development of technologies, such as the internet of things, cloud computing and 5G networks, a tsunami of data is fast approaching. It is expected that datacenters will become one of the largest global energy users. Datacenters have the fastest growing carbon footprint in the entire ICT sector, mainly due to technological advances.
Datacenters tend to be a powerhouse of consumption and excess. They demand huge loads of energy and must remain online at all times of the day and night, which require incredible levels of reliability and performance.
As a way to cut down on datacenter power consumption, it makes sense to improve efficiencies across the board, and there are certainly ways to do that in the modern datacenter.
It’s no secret that datacenter equipment and servers release a lot of heat, which means a large portion of expenditures come from cooling and air conditioning. The equipment must remain at a safe temperature, which calls for proper ventilation and cooling.
That power consumption can be lessened by optimizing not just the cooling operations with air economizers, but also the center where the equipment is housed. Proper insulation, for example, can help maintain temperatures within the room. By optimizing certain operations and processes, such as temperature control, it’s possible to reduce datacenter power usage.
As previously mentioned, it is ironic that the creation of new technology is contributing to global warming, but can also reduce emissions and help the environment on the long term. One example of this is cloud computing.
When you think about reducing your environmental impact, you might consider carpooling to save gas and reduce the amount of emissions. Passengers who participate in a carpool can still take their own car when necessary. Cloud services, where client systems are hosted in a shared infrastructure are a similar concept. Each client system still has its own available resources when needed, but otherwise can share.
Cloud providers have invested in advanced hardware technology and replaced equipment to offer improved performance with reduced power consumption. Cloud can help simplify IT by providing scalability, reducing provisioning time for a new system or application and enabling standardization. The transformations driven by cloud go deeper than just an infrastructure level. Choosing cloud can help your organization save on costs through efficient resource usage, and therefore contributes to reducing overall energy consumption.
The biggest impact ICT players can have on climate change is the ability to enable other sectors of the economy to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is through innovating new technologies that are more energy efficient, and also by providing the connectivity for digital solutions that reduce energy use.
Cities are responsible for the majority of the world’s economic activity, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, to significantly cut emissions, urban centers will need to both use less energy and take greater advantage of periods when intermittent renewable energy is available. “Smart cities” are expected to play a pivotal role in achieving these objectives.
The term smart city can encompass a broad range of initiatives, for example, smart traffic management, smart urban lighting, smart parking, etc. Smart traffic management enables more efficient traffic flows, thereby easing congestion and lowering vehicle pollution. Intelligent street lighting can lower electricity demand by switching off when not required. Furthermore, mobile apps can help drivers find available parking spaces, reducing congestion and GHG emissions.
Already there are emerging technologies being used to cut emissions and help countries adapt to the effects of climate change. While climate change is a long-term phenomenon, an international team of researchers wanted to see what effect short-term weather extremes would have on urban power grids.
Extreme hot spells made increasingly likely by climate change could overload urban power grids and cause roving blackouts as an ever-greater share of humanity opt to live in cities. With more than half of mankind expected to live in cities by 2050, existing infrastructure relying on power from fossil fuels is likely to prove insufficient to meet growing demand, as well as the exploding use of air conditioning as urban heat skyrockets in summer.
According to lead study author Dasun Perera, “Extreme weather events could reduce reliability of power supply by 16 percent which can easily lead to blackouts resulting in huge economic losses.” The team also found that increasing hot and cold spells could affect the integration of renewable supplies within existing power grids. This, in turn, could have a significant impact on urban air quality and poses a further challenge to governments and cities seeking to shrink their carbon footprint.
Climate change has made weather patterns harder to predict, and extreme events such as droughts and floods have become more frequent and severe. Even with global efforts to reduce emissions, some climate change is inevitable. Action to adapt to its impacts is needed.
The industry already has an important role to play in adapting and responding to the effects of climate change. For example, mobile networks are facilitating access to information and coordinating assistance before, during and after climate-related emergencies. These efforts are often supported by operators’ in-house disaster response teams, while mobile technology has rapidly become an attractive delivery channel for many forms of aid.
Lastly, as part of a 4G Smart City Project in Taiwan, telco companies implemented a smart water disaster management system, allowing authorities to successfully predict flooding and the potential for disasters. Similarly, in Nepal, mobile operator Ncell partnered with the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology to send early-warning alerts to its customers living in high-risk areas of floods and landslides, encouraging them to move to government-designated safe locations when water levels become too high.
While the role of the ICT sector in mitigating climate change is well-recognized, less often discussed is the potential for the sector to enable society to prepare for and respond to imminent climate change impacts. In many cases, ICT contributes to both mitigation and adaptation efforts at the same time. The ICT sector must continue to play its part in tackling the current crisis and continue to innovate radically to reduce emissions.