Green ICTs: New Technologies for the Environment

Information & Communication Technologies (ICTs) have transformed our society’s way of living. Continuously ICTs have delivered innovative products and services in cities, regions and countries.  Now our live is highly dependent on them.  We cannot conceive our daily activities without internet, a mobile phones or a computer.  From an environmental perspective, the manufacturing and use of ICTs generate several environmental impacts, such as e-waste or CO2 emissions generations. 

There is a specific type of ICTs called Green ICT services or solutions, which are ICT-based technologies that promote efficiency and environmental sustainability in different sectors of the economy. They are enablers for the efficient use of scarce resources such as energy or water; or support the reduction of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emissions.

This concept was introduced several years ago by, especially by the Industry Analyst, Gartner, that in 2010 published their Hype cycle for Green IT & Sustainability. They were optimistic in mentioning that there are two groups of services for Green ICTs. The first one related to pure connectivity services, and secondly the services with added value added that could help above all to reduce increasingly energy costs. Technologies for waste and water management seemed to have a promising future too when the market will be mature enough to receive them. In 2015, after 5 years, Gartner published again a Hype Cycle for Green IT, where technologies on the rise are the ones related to energy harvesting or hosted virtual desktops. Technologies such as green-cooling, smart water management, smart OLED lighting, are in the process of being adopted by the industry.  In 2016, Gartner published the Hype Cycle for Sustainability including green ICT services for smart cities and urban environmental quality.

To make it easy, I will try to explain green ICT solutions with some examples. One of them could be the use of sophisticated videoconferencing or tele-presence services, that aim to reduce travel and CO2 emissions from the users.  Now there is no need to travel 12 hours for a 2-hour meeting, we can really meet by video.  Our Skype or Face Time are also examples of these type of technologies, with less sophistication but the principle of "virtual meetings" is the same. Now big companies such as ATT are working together to provide this service to large corporations. According to them, large U.S. and U.K. businesses can cut CO2 emissions by nearly 5.5 million metric tons in total – the greenhouse gas equivalent of removing more than one million passenger vehicles from the road for one year – by 2020.

Other group of green ICT services, are the ones related to the use of intelligent transport systems (ITS) in public or private transport fleets. These optimize routes and provide real time information to drivers. These systems, save fuel consumption and reduce CO2 emissions from the fleet itself. In the case of public transport, they reduce CO2 emissions in the fleets but also from the users that do not take their car to move from one place to another.  In Seoul, for example, city Transport Operation and Information Service, TOPIS, allows an efficient management of the whole transport in the city.  

Example of Smart Meters
In the energy sector, smart grid services to improve energy efficiency in power transmission and distribution networks, are common green ICT services too.  Smart meters for water, electricity or gas management, like the ones promoted in the United Kingdom, are also key examples of these type of technologies. The country, believes that the roll-out of smart meters will play an important part in Britain’s transition to a low-carbon economy, as consumers will have access to near real time information on their energy consumption to help them manage their energy use, save money and reduce emissions. 

According to the SMARTer2020 Report by GeSi; the intensive use of ICT services can reduce CO2 emissions from strategic sectors of the global economy: power, transport, agriculture, buildings, manufacturing and consumer and service sector. These technologies will promote energy efficiency for buildings, electric vehicles and electric mobility, distributed renewable energy, eco-design, automation and smart technology, as well as cloud services and virtualization. These savings could represent a reduction of 16,5% of global GHG emissions by the year 2020 and will generate economic savings in energy of about $1.9 trillion.

Green ICT services have a massive opportunity to support this low carbon future and these numbers seem very promising for the ICT Industry. Therefore, is important to understand that Green ICT services require innovation investment as well as corporate decisions to develop specific projects in order to make these benefits tangible. The smart services models could be good examples to drive this transformation of the digital world. Smart buildings, smart utilities services or smart transportation solutions together in an information platform to manage huge amounts of information could be the solution. 

In 2020, not only people will be connected, but also millions of devices. The “Internet of Things” and the “M2M revolution”, bring business opportunities to ICT companies but also challenges in terms of resource efficiency. The problem is that most of the technological needs to drive this intensive use of technology will occur in cities where major population growth and urbanization takes place.  

Green ICT services for cities in their journey to be smart and sustainable are a huge opportunity to look forward. We will discuss this in another post! 

[1] KPMG. Report Expect the Unexpected.

[2] Smarter 2020 Report. GESI.

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