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Getting SMARTer About Wielding ICT to Cut Emissions

The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), an information and communication technology (ICT) industry partnership, just released a new report that details how expanded use of ICT could cut global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 16.5% by 2020 and offset $1.9 trillion in gross energy and fuel costs. The report, SMARTer2020, was put together by The Boston Consulting Group and also finds ICT’s GHG abatement potential to be the equivalent to more than seven times the ICT sector’s emissions over the same time period. Clearly, ICT can play an important role in saving energy and mitigating climate change.

A GeSI press release summarizes SMARTer2020’s findings:

The new research study identifies GHG abatement potential from ICT-enabled solutions ranging across six sectors of the economy: power, transportation, manufacturing, consumer and service, agriculture, and buildings. Emission reductions come from virtualization initiatives such as cloud computing and video conferencing, but also through efficiency gains such as optimization of variable-speed motors in manufacturing, smart livestock management to reduce methane emissions, and 32 other ICT-enabled solutions identified in the study. Some ICT-driven solutions such as smart electricity grids reap benefits at the national level, whilst others like intelligent building management systems can result in energy – and cost – savings for individual households and businesses.

Unsurprisingly, the power and transportation sectors, respectively, are found to have the highest potential for GHG emission reduction via greater ICT adoption. But the report also finds agriculture – even more so than manufacturing or the consumer and service sector – to be an area with significant potential for greater energy efficiency. “As the inputs required to grow crops emit large quantities of emissions, ICT that allows farmers to accurately assess how much to irrigate and fertilize their crops will lead to emissions abatement,” the report’s executive summary observes. “Systems that reduce the amount of land required to raise livestock and reduce their methane emissions also have significant abatement potential.”

ICT’s climate change mitigation potential is not a recent revelation. As ITIF previously blogged, another GeSI report from earlier this year examined how greater facilitation of a variety of consumer activities through ICT could achieve net energy savings equivalent to 2 percent of several countries’ total energy consumption. Furthermore, as also noted in that blog post, “a 2011 ITIF report, Innovation for Control: Smart Technology to Empower Energy Producers and Users, points out transforming the electricity grid to a smart grid with ICT could lead to economic growth and is a foundational technology in transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy. In fact, ITIF has estimated that $50 billion in smart grid investment over five years in the U.S. could create, on average, 239,000 jobs, with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimating that fully deploying a smart grid would directly reduce carbon dioxide emissions within the national electric power sector by 12 percent by 2030.”

Of course, in addition to highlighting the value of ICT from an energy efficiency perspective, SMARTer2020 really drives home the idea that technological innovation will prove essential to addressing climate change. The report actually buildings on GeSI’s SMART2020 study, which projected more modest GHG emissions reductions as a result of ICT at the time of its release in 2008. The difference in the intervening years? Ever improving ICT capabilities, especially in mobile communications and smart devices. Ultimately, ICT in particular and technology in general will prove essential to curbing GHG emissions – stakeholders must work hard to ensure that innovation is central to the climate change debate.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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