ICT equipment at the basic level comprises of software and supporting hardware necessary for sensing, storing (and retrieving), processing, transmitting, receiving and securing digital information. Information and Communication Technology has enabled the transformation to information based society by overcoming the barriers imposed by time, distance, location and constraints inherent in human capacities to process information and make decisions.
However, ICT creates some environmental problems. Computers and other IT infrastructure consume a significant amount of electricity, placing a heavy burden on our electric grids and contributing the greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), the ICT sector is expected to account for up to 20% of the global electricity consumption levels by 2030.
The current ICT equipment and telecommunication networks are not energy efficient. That includes Desktop and Laptop PCS, Printers, scanners, copiers, projectors, Smart phones, PDAs, desktop phones, Wireless and connected routers, hubs, and other networking equipment, mail servers, file servers, firewalls, databases etc., Data Centres and the equipment in them. Moreover; IT hardware poses severe environmental problems both during its production and its disposal.
The tremendous growth in the global information and communications technology (ICT) industry has resulted in approximately 1,100 million tons of carbon emission, as per research from 2020. And without intervention, the emissions from global ICT will rise. Internet traffic is increasing exponentially to meet consumer demand. The future generation networks and IoT will further escalate this figure, as these would overburden the core ICT pillars i.e. Data Centers (DC’s), and Mobile networks (NT). This in turn will inflate the ICT power consumption and leads to more carbon emission.
Green ICT refers to the design and application of information and communication technology to offer environmental benefits. Green ICT is concerned with ICT equipment that is sustainably produced, lasts longer, wastes less energy, is used in an efficient way and is disposed of responsibly. It encompasses innovative ICT tools, e- and m-services, and smart technologies in combination with green practices and green behavior either for the ICT industrial sector or the ICT user/citizen that contributes not only to the protection and restoration of the environment but also to the enhancement of the quality of human life.
The adoption of ICT can be used to reduce GHG emissions, this is called ‘greening by ICT’. These include technologies like Home energy management systems like Smart Metering and Smart Grids, ICT for Smart Buildings Management, Sustainable Transport, including electric vehicles, real time navigation (RTN) and e-logistics, E-commerce, E-government, including e-civil service, Smart work, E-learning, E-health care and Telepresence.
Some of the big digital companies are now making claims about becoming carbon neutral or even carbon negative. Microsoft’s bold goals include, “By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.” Google claims to be carbon neutral already, and the company plans to exceed this by “decarbonizing our energy consumption so that by 2030, we’ll operate on carbon-free energy, everywhere, 24/7.”
Green ICT technologies
Researchers and businesses are advancing innovative ideas with potential for mainstream Green ICT. These range from products and services available today to futuristic concepts for tomorrow.
The green development initiatives for the ICT industry can be broken down into several aspects, specifically hardware, software, networks, and processes.
In terms of hardware, the main emphasis would be the evaluation of the equipment and tools used by ICT organizations. Companies start by understanding the energy consumption levels of their equipment, followed by adjustments to procurement policies and establishing energy conservation parameters for new purchases, such as replacing desktops with laptops, which consume up to 90% less electricity.
In terms of software, the ICT industry has also seen numerous initiatives, such as the development of electronic working solutions. For example, video conferencing tools facilitate online collaborations remotely and reduce traffic on the roads. According to the GeSI, this could help save more than 100 hours of travel time annually per individual. An expected 67% reduction in travel emissions could be achieved. Monitoring applications are also adopted by the industry to provide real-time energy usage patterns and prompts for organizations to make quick adjustments in their operations.
In terms of processes, a prominent topic for the energy-intensive ICT industry has been the adoption of renewable energy. Major ICT players are increasingly leveraging renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, in reducing their carbon footprints. For example, Google’s investments in renewable energies include a solar plant in Chile, and a wind farm in Sweden.
Organizations have also implemented recycling programs to promote responsible waste management for old electronics, where improper disposal could aggravate the emissions of chemicals and greenhouse gases.
Green computing (also known as green IT or sustainable IT) is the design, manufacture, use and disposal of computers, chips, other technology components and peripherals in a way that limits the harmful impact on the environment, including reducing carbon emissions and the energy consumed by manufacturers, data centers and end-users. Green computing also encompasses choosing sustainably sourced raw materials, reducing electronic waste and promoting sustainability through the use of renewable resources.
Green data centers
According to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, data centers in the United States will consume 140 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year by 2020, costing $13 billion and emitting 100 million metric tons of carbon.
Data centers have turned to the use of renewable energy wherever available and cooling data centers more efficiently to run in a sustainable manner, however this is not sufficient. The GreenStar Network project, launched in 2010, seeks to encourage cloud-based ICT services using only renewable energy sources such as the sun, wind, and hydroelectricity. The project, an alliance of Canada’s leading IT companies and universities, is led by École de Technologie Supérieure, in Montreal.
Chen Sun, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley estimates that 20 to 30 percent of the energy used in data-center servers is spent transferring data between processor, memory, and networking cards. Researchers are working to develop photonics based communications that would be much more energy-efficient and offer potentially higher performance
Green networking is the practice of selecting energy-efficient networking technologies and products, and minimizing resource use whenever possible.
Green networking practices include:Implementing virtualization, Practicing server consolidation,
Upgrading older equipment for newer, more energy-efficient products, Employing systems management to increase efficiency, Substituting telecommuting, remote administration and videoconferencing for travel.
Several studies have been published showing the positive sustainability impacts ICT solutions may have, and during the Covid-19 pandemic it has been demonstrated how ICT solutions such as remote working, video meetings, etc, have been instrumental for keeping businesses and societies going, thereby proving these solutions work for real.
The sustainability of ICT itself, and in particular the radio access networks providing nationwide access to the ICT services is also important. Energy efficiency have been in focus there for a long time, the latest generation 5G that currently is being rolled out is the most energy efficient ever, and the development continues towards 5.5G and 6G.
Datacenter networking infrastructures rely on power-hungry devices to operate. Modern enabling technologies such as Software Defined Networking, Edge Computing, and Virtualization, can enable more efficient green network solutions.
Batteries are made of metals and plastics, the production and disposal of which is usually environmentally. A alternative technology is in its infancy, but researchers think bacteria and paper may provide a way of creating more sustainable batteries.
IEEE Spectrum reports that research by Seokheun Choi and colleagues at the State University of New York at Binghamton “focuses on integrating bacteria into paper both to generate electricity and to dispose of the battery…To create the battery, the research team placed freeze-dried “exoelectrogens” on paper. They explain that exoelectrogens are a type of bacteria that can transfer electrons outside of their cells. The electrons pass through the cell membrane and make contact with external electrodes to power the battery…To activate the battery, the researchers added water or saliva, both of which revived the bacteria”. At the end of its lifecycle, the “hybrid paper-polymer biobattery readily decomposes in water.”
Researchers in Spain are working on “the PowerPAD (Power: Portable And Disposable), a fully organic and completely biodegradable battery concept inspired by the sustainability principles of green electronics. [It} represents a new class of batteries designed to operate for relatively short periods of time (from minutes to 1–2 h) to fulfill the power needs of portable applications while not requiring any specific recycling facility for its disposal…The two electrodes made of hydrophilic porous carbon paper are… sandwiched between two thin layers of cellulose in order to ensure reliable capillary flow of reactants through the electrodes and into the large cellulose absorbent pad at the bottom. The outward facing surfaces of the device are sealed with a beeswax-covered cellulose layer in order to prevent liquid leakages…The proposed battery is conceived as a single use power source that is activated by the addition of a small sample of liquid, such as water, urine, or saliva, on the inlet cellulose pad.”
Green Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is seen as a novel technical paradigm aimed at enabling connectivity between billions of interconnected devices all around the world. This IoT is being served in various domains, such as smart healthcare, traffic surveillance, smart homes, smart cities, and various industries. IoT’s main functionality includes sensing the surrounding environment, collecting data from the surrounding, and transmitting those data to the remote data centers or the cloud. This sharing of vast volumes of data between billions of IoT devices generates a large energy demand and increases energy wastage in the form of heat. The Green IoT envisages reducing the energy consumption of IoT devices and keeping the environment safe and clean.
Energy consumption is becoming state-of-the-art to ensure the reliability of the Internet of Things and the deployment of an intelligent world. The IoT must be energy efficient to mitigate the greenhouse impact and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from sensors, devices, apps, and services to achieve a sustainable, innovative world.
Green design, green manufacturing, green utilization, and lastly, green disposal are some new words popping up in the IoT realm.
Fuel cells for remote base stations
Over 700 million people are covered by mobile networks, but live in areas without reliable electricity. Deployment of remote base stations powered by renewable energy is growing, but they most are still powered by dirty diesel generators.
India reflects that situation, according to an article in IEEE Spectrum. “Despite significant addition to power generation and transmission capacities in recent years, India still faces an energy deficit of 2.1% and about 20,000 villages are off-grid. Moreover, electricity supply to urban and rural India is still unreliable. As a result, diesel generators are widely used for decentralized power generation.” This appears to be spurring some promising R&D.
The National Chemistry Laboratory (NCL) in India, along with two other labs in the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CECRI), and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), are investigating cleaner, cost-effective, and more dependable technology for powering telecom towers…A promising answer to the cost and pollution conundrum can be found in proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEM fuel cells or PEMFCs…which are being phased into many applications as replacements for older power technology. [They offer] small carbon footprints, low decibel levels, fuel compatibility, and excellent complementarity with other renewable energy options…PEM fuel cell systems have an overall efficiency exceeding 30% (compared to 22-25% for diesel generators), and when run on pure hydrogen, their only emission is water vapor.”
Mobile base station designed for renewable power
Another approach to the problem of dirty telecom is to make base station electronics more energy efficient and thus more compatible with on-site renewable power.
The Development Impact Lab (DIL) at UC Berkeley has developed a village base station called the Community Cellular Network (CCN). “The CCN is a complete ‘network-in-a-box’, enabling local communities to both own and operate their own cellular systems. The network is designed for the world’s most remote communities and can be deployed by people with limited technical skills. At its core is a village base station, or cell phone tower. Each CCN is costs less than 1/10th the price of traditional cellular equipment, and its low power consumption enables it run solely on solar or micro-hydro power. It is also highly efficient, using less than 50W average power draw, which reduces infrastructure and operating costs. The network can provide kilometers of coverage to local communities.”
The brain as a model for low-energy computing
“As [Gill Pratt of Toyota Research] sees it, machines that spread computations across vast numbers of tiny, low-power chips can operate more like the human brain, which efficiently uses the energy at its disposal. ‘In the brain, energy efficiency is the key,’ he said …”
A New York Times article describes work at Google and Microsoft to deliver cloud services via neural networks – large collections of processors that constantly learn how to improve the performance of a task like speech recognition. The solution? “…the leading internet companies are now training their neural networks with help from another type of chip called a graphics processing unit, or G.P.U. These low-power chips…were originally designed to render images for games and other software, and they worked hand-in-hand with the chip…at the center of a computer. G.P.U.s can process the math required by neural networks far more efficiently than C.P.U.s.”
Current without resistance
The Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET) is an international collaberation to address the challenge of ICT energy consumption. “FLEET will meet this challenge by realising new types of electronic conduction without resistance in solid-state systems at room temperature. These concepts will form the basis of new types of switching devices (transistors) with vastly lower energy consumption per computation than silicon CMOS. Electronic conduction without resistance will be realised in topological insulators that conduct only along their edges and semiconductors that support the superflow of electrons strongly coupled to photons. These pathways are enabled by the new science of atomically thin materials.”
‘Dissipationless systems’, ‘atomically thin semiconductors’, and ‘non-equilibrium topological phenomena’ will likely yield more futuristic applications than those described below, but this kind of advanced research is critical for game-changing breakthroughs in sustainable ICT technology. The FLEET site contains videos explaining these concepts.
FLEET also asserts, “The current technology, silicon complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) will stop becoming more efficient in the next decade as Moore’s law comes to an end.”
The transformative potential of ICT
“While ICT’s contribution to the overall carbon footprint is projected to increase marginally in the coming years, the transformative potential of ICT to enable savings in energy consumption, and subsequently GHG emissions, across all other industrial sectors is high,” says mobility report. Smart metering for homes as well as building energy management and smart grid solutions help households and building managers reduce their energy consumption. ICT also promotes novel methods of power generation and distribution such as Distributed Power generation, from unidirectional to bi directional power grid as predicted during a span of 15 years.
Smart service solutions including services for the healthcare, education and governmental sectors have a dematerialization effect thereby increasing the efficiency of products and ultimately natural resources, e.g. car pools. Smart travel and transport solutions enable better route and traffic optimization, improved vehicle and fleet management and can also support the shift to low emission alternatives like public transport.
ICT is in a unique position to create efficiencies that help other industrial sectors to reduce their GHG emissions. Research indicates a total GHG emission reduction potential of up to 10 gigatonnes of CO2 e (including direct and indirect reductions), representing about 15 percent of the global GHG emissions in 2030.
Matilda Gennvi Gustafsson, sustainability director, Ericsson commented on the findings: “There are a number of different sectors that can use mobile ICT to enable new business models to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Smart travel and transport solutions can play a role in reducing vehicle energy consumption, using advanced analytics to optimize routes and providing up-to-date information about congestion – helping drivers make better choices and avoid dangerous situations.
Greening by ICT
A side benefit of making data centers, wireless networks, and the core networks of telecommunication service providers more energy efficient, known as “greening ICT,” would be its adoption in other industries as well. That is known as “greening by ICT,” Elmirghani says. Sending e-mail rather than postal mail, and using video conferencing instead of flying to attend a meeting, for example, decreases the carbon emissions from postal trucks and airplanes.
“By reducing materials consumption (dematerialization), the environmental load related to goods production and disposal as well as waste generation can be reduced. By enhancing the efficiency of power and energy use to reduce consumption, the environmental load related to power generation, power transmission, etc. can be reduced. By reducing the movement of people, the environmental load required for transportation can be reduced.
By using office space efficiently, power consumption for lighting, air conditioning, etc. can be reduced, thus reducing environmental load. By reducing storage space of goods, power consumption for lighting, air conditioning, etc. can be reduced, thus reducing environmental load and by reducing waste emissions, the environmental load required for environmental preservation as well as for waste disposal can be reduced” according to ITU-T Recommendation L.1400 “Overview and general principles of methodologies for assessing the environmental impact of ICT”
Elmirghani cites the decrease in carbon emissions pinpointed in the SMARTer 2030 report issued in June by the Global e-Sustainability initiative. It found greening by ICT could enable a 20 percent reduction of global CO2 emissions by 2030, effectively holding ICT emissions at 2015 levels, and that ICT can reduce global CO2 emissions by an amount equal to approximately 10 times its own carbon footprint.
The Global e-Sustainability initiative is a collaboration of major ICT companies and a leading source of information, resources, and best practices for achieving integrated social and environmental sustainability through ICT. The SMARTer report notes that the overall effect of ICT could generate more than $11 trillion in sustainable benefits annually, such as saving more than 300 trillion liters of water and reducing the need for oil by 25 billion barrels. Greening by ICT can benefit society in other ways as well. The report predicts that by 2030, ICT could potentially give 1.6 billion more people access to medical services via telemedicine and provide half a billion with e-learning tools
Green Initiatives in the ICT Sector
In January 2015, IEEE Green ICT Initiative was created, with mission encompassing complete rethinking of how to design, build and use ICT. The Initiative works with 16 diverse IEEE societies that includes cloud computing, the Internet of Things, big data, smart cities and smart grid, and with leading research institutions around the world.
The Green ICT initiative calls for the application of green metrics and standards when a project’s research and design concepts are first being developed. Whatever is designed—whether it’s a communication system, a cloud system, a computer system, or if there’s an electron device, photonic device, or an antenna propagation project—it needs to be done with the environment in mind.
“With 40 percent annual traffic growth, if we are able to improve the energy efficiency of today’s networks by a factor of 1,000, then in 20 years they would consume the same amount of energy used today,” says Senior Member Jaafar Elmirghani, who co-chairs the initiative along with Senior Member Charles Despins. “
Ericsson has long assessed the energy and carbon footprint of ICT from a life cycle perspective and made projections out to 2020. Life cycle assessment (LCA) studies show that operations typically represent about two thirds of the carbon footprint of ICT. The remaining third is related to the manufacturing and transport of equipment and devices.
The report states: “Recent studies show that in OECD countries with high ICT use, the total energy footprint (and consequently the carbon footprint) has started to decrease. Another new and important change is that as mobile device usage grows, the use of larger, less energy-efficient fixed devices declines, further reducing the energy and carbon footprint of ICT overall.”
“Data traffic is set to grow by 10 times over the same period, but mobile networks have managed to improve performance from a global average of 2kWh per gigabyte transferred in 2015, to a projected 0.25 kWh in 2021 – an eight-fold improvement.” Using Sweden as an example, the report noted that data traffic increased by more than 13 times over six years, while energy consumption grew by 40%. Yet moving to mobile data traffic – projected to increase tenfold over the next six years – would halve the energy requirement.
Australia has launched a new ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET), led by Professor Michael Fuhrer, at Monash University. This ARC Centre of Excellence will focus on addressing the global challenge of reducing the energy used in information technology and computation, to develop revolutionary electronics and communications technologies,” said Australian Research Council (ARC) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Professor Sue Thomas. “More efficient, low-energy electronics technologies and devices are critical to the future of computing and communication, to address the limitations of present technology. “FLEET will develop novel methods of resistance-free electronic conduction that will meet the growing demand for computation that can operate at ultra-low energy consumption.
“Working collaboratively with other participating universities and its Australian and international industry partners, the Centre of Excellence will equip the next generation of researchers with the skills and industry experience to lead this field into the future.”
The European Commission has set a goal in its Digital Strategy from 2020 that data centres should be carbon neutral by 2030. In addition, for telecommunications networks the Commission committed to additional transparency measures. Both type of infrastructures carry the promise of new jobs in local communities but may also impact the environment of these communities.
European Framework Initiative for Energy & Environmental Efficiency in the ICT Sector recommended six pillars that are being taken forward that may help and influence policy and research and development funding dialogues on a national and European level and, on how to unlock the Green ICT market development. Some of its recommendations are:
It called for defining an EU Common policy on Green ICT 2020: With a roadmap, developed jointly by government and industry. The roadmap must consider goals to be achieved in the medium and long term. “All those who adopt Green ICT products, services and procedures, shall benefit from lower taxes. Another solution would be to implement higher taxes on products and services that are not sustainable.” The measures which force manufacturers to vastly increase the level of recycling and reusage of their component.
Priorities must be customised for each ICT dimension. For Hardware, example would be to favour the improvement of the battery’s full charge duration & the implementation of circular business models; for Networks and data centres example would be the use of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency and for Software example would be to promote the implementation of eco-design procedures and circular business models.
Make “carbon reporting” mandatory and easy to be done, specially for SMEs. Companies should report their carbon consumption to the public authorities, as easy as the financial reporting is. Carbon reporting will allow an accurate and close control and calculation of carbon consumption, but this knowledge must be accessible to all players, namely SMEs.
Demonstrate that Green ICT is a real competitive advantage
Green ICT is mostly seen only as a brand value. However, the society is not aware that Green ICT can also be a competitive business advantage. The greener one becomes, the more competitive also is. Demonstrate the concrete benefits users can get with Green ICT. Without a real benefit for the users, they won’t have the motivation to embrace sustainable ICT practices.
Business-cases: Create business-cases, demonstrating the return of investment of Green ICT, indicating how it was implemented, which standards & methodologies were used and make it clear that investments on green ICT are not risky. Green IT in the business plan: Different stakeholders shall be together involved in green ICT: users, technicians and service providers. Green ICT topic must be considered right from the business plan writing.
Circular Economy as a commodity
Promote reverse logistics and reduce urban mining: Support the adoption of reverse logistics and the decrease or urban mining, to decrease e-waste. This concept shall be also considered during business plan writing.
Address E-Waste: Define solutions and best practices to reduce e-Waste production or increase its recycling.
Circular Economy as a “must be”: Define rules on ICT equipment design. ICT equipment’s must be designed to be easily recycled and repaired, to increase their lifetime. It shall be cheaper to buy a repaired or recycled ICT good rather than buying a brand new one.
Make mandatory for big organisations to include in their offer ICT equipment that is remanufactured, rather than having only brand-new equipment.
Increase the Adoption of Green ICT Standards
Demystify complexity: Make it easier to interpret and implement standards & methodologies. Their complexity is holding back their adoption, due to the difficulty and time consuming that is required. IT manufacturers to adopt methodologies: Promote the adoption of standards & methodologies by IT manufacturers. Global problems need global solutions: Standards shall be open and have minimal interoperability mechanisms, so support both industry and cities to create an open and global sustainable smart cities environment, based on cities’ needs.
Digital Societies shall be hands in hands with Green IT
Modern society today is extremely digitised: 5G networks, Artificial Intelligence, IoT, Robotics, Cloud Computing, Big Data amongst others. These technologies are making our cities and businesses into smart ones and sustainable in some respects. However, this ICT usage is increasing the carbon and environmental footprint of ICT itself. ICT has a large potential to help cities and businesses become greener, but the authorities need to help ICT to become sustainable. There is a high challenge for cities and businesses to understand the size of this problem. It is essential for cities and businesses to make their ICT green.
Capacity Building – Training & Education
One of the main barriers for organisations to adopt Green ICT is due to the lack of professionals trained on this, on software, hardware, networks, amongst others. It called for providing Green ICT skills to professionals, across distinct economic sectors, on how to make ICT more sustainable, Including Green ICT curricula topics to be covered in university course programmes, Promote the Green ICT lifestyle amongst citizens, to promote behaviour-change and Educating and raising e-awareness of the young generation.