How does ICT contribute to reducing emissions?

In less than a quarter of a century, the digital transformation has accelerated thanks to the internet, and the emergence of technology companies that have invested in the software and hardware industry. In the last two years, the Corona pandemic has helped push this transformation to unprecedented heights, making the virtual world a part of every human being’s daily life.

While estimates differ on its energy consumption and the amount of emissions it generates, it can be said with increasing confidence that the ICT sector is one of the few sectors that is on track to reduce its carbon footprint and the challenges of global climate change. head to offer. .

The carbon footprint of digital technologies

Continuous improvements in energy efficiency within data centers and networks have led the International Energy Agency to identify the ICT sector as one of the few sectors on the path to decarbonisation. Of the 46 key energy technologies and end-use sectors considered critical to stopping global warming, the agency’s mid-2020 report on clean energy progress found data centers and their transmission networks one of only six compatible with sustainable development scenarios, based on current efficiency trends. But it depends on the good choice of their sites and the sources of energy they are provided with, without conflicting with the basic needs of local communities. Because digital data processing, storage and transmission centers consume large amounts of electricity.

Previous reports by various organizations have expressed concern about the carbon footprint of the ICT sector, but reviews conducted by the International Energy Agency have shown exaggerations in these reports. Among these reports was issued by the French organization “Shift Project” in 2019, which concluded that watching a video online was responsible for the release of more than 300 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2018, equivalent to the total release of France. In 2020, the International Energy Agency’s “Carbon Letter” refuted the assumptions made by the Shift Project that it had exaggerated emissions 50 times.

A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change in 2018 concluded that cumulative emissions of bitcoin data mining alone are enough to pump up the remaining carbon budget to global warming to within 2 ° C above pre-industrial to limit levels. Then the International Energy Agency published a review of this study which found that bitcoin mining accounts for about 10 to 20 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, or 0.03 to 0.06 percent of global emissions.

The previous examples give a look at the energy demand for some digital services, but the ICT sector is not limited to these services. These include, for example, data centers that store and process data, transmission networks that transmit data over fixed or mobile networks, and communication devices such as computers and smart phones that exchange information over the network. These are all activities that are characterized by a high concentration of energy consumption, and they still need careful studies to know the final outcome of it, and the actual size of the savings in consumption that resulted from it, and to compare it with the size of their power consumption. Here it is necessary to distinguish between productive digital activities, and those dedicated to entertainment and social media entertainment.

Despite the rapid growth in data services and connected devices, the demand for energy in the ICT sector has been relatively stable over the past few years; Rapid improvements in computer efficiency, data centers, and transportation networks have helped reduce consumption.

Currently published estimates indicate that information and communication technologies make up about 4 to 7 percent of the world’s demand for electricity. This sector’s net emissions are on average equal to 2 percent of all emissions from human activities, which is close to that of the global aviation sector.

However, a number of unsustainable practices in the ICT sector cannot be ignored. For example, all digital device manufacturers strive for the concept of “replacement instead of repair.” Application updates also force the upgrading of digital devices, which exacerbates the e-waste problem and increases the demand for resources, thus increasing pollution over the product life cycle from raw material mining to final disposal.

On the other hand, it is unreliable in the future to bet only on computer efficiency to reduce energy consumption. While computer efficiency, which represents the number of calculations per kilowatt-hour of electricity, has doubled approximately every 1.6 years, the doubling of computer efficiency has slowed in recent years and reached a cycle of about 2.6 years. However, successive studies and innovations demonstrate the ability of the ICT sector to continue to improve efficiency through application software, algorithms and hardware.

The digital sector is developing its tools to conserve the environment

Apart from the benefits of increased energy efficiency, the energy source plays an important role in reducing emissions. It is noted that more than half of the technology companies, including “Google”, “Apple”, “Microsoft” and “Meta”, already use renewable energy sources for most of their energy needs. 3 out of 4 technology companies are expected to rely on renewable energy by 2030. The current dispute between Meta (Facebook and WhatsApp) and locals in one Dutch region shows; Where the company intends to build a large digital data center, the amount of competition for electricity between this type of activity and the needs of the local population.

Many companies abstract their products using digital rather than physical elements, creating virtual worlds that significantly reduce the consumption of natural resources. The report, “The Path of Dematerialization to Profitability and Sustainability,” released by the Ericsson Industry Lab last year, expects the future to see more non-physical organizations benefiting from cloud and mobile technology, so they are the regulator of work to meet the evolving needs of customers by 2030. .

The Ericsson Industry Lab report, which relied on gathering the opinions of more than 5,000 decision-makers and employees in 11 world markets, expects 60% of office work to be done remotely outside corporate premises by 2030. The “Covid-19” pandemic demonstrates the ability of information technology and communication to enable employees and students to work and study remotely, and the concomitant reduction in mobility and carbon dioxide emissions.

With regard to the issue of energy-saving solutions, the report expects that cloud services and communications networks from the fifth generation onwards will be a catalyst, if used properly, to reduce energy consumption and environmental impact in general. 80% of ICT decision-makers expect significant energy savings due to the use of multi-cloud solutions by 2030, not just for their organizations, but for society as a whole.

Digitization can drive new energy efficiency gains across sectors as diverse as buildings and transportation. For example, residential and commercial buildings account for a third of global energy demand and 55 percent of electricity consumption, and digitizing energy systems in buildings and consumer appliances can dramatically improve energy efficiency by ensuring that energy consumption is captured only when and where it is needed.

In transportation, real-time traffic data and improved traffic management allow drivers to respond in a timely manner to congestion and road conditions, which reduces fuel consumption. Freight transport is another area that enables ICT applications to achieve significant energy savings and lower emissions by choosing better routes, optimizing supply chains and sharing data between companies.

Like all sectors, ICTs face significant challenges in their efforts to eliminate emissions. But at the same time, it is an important tool for promoting energy efficiency, enabling remote work and facilitating the transition to a more environmentally friendly and sustainable world.


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