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Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Industry Soon to Be Largest Source of Co2 Emissions

Bill St. Arnaud

There has been a lot of discussion lately on the environmental impact of the proposed Keystone-XL pipeline that is intended to carry heavy oil from the tar sands in Alberta to refineries on the US Gulf Coast.

I suspect at the end of the day the US government will approve the pipeline as GDP growth and potential job losses will always trump concerns over the environment.

However, the US government has been putting on a lot pressure on Alberta to improve its environmental standards as a quid pro quo for approving the pipeline. In response Alberta is exploring expanding their current CO2 emissions program to a $40/tonne carbon levy. In the past, all of the funds raised by Alberta's carbon emissions program was returned to industry to invest in dubious energy efficiency programs. But Alberta could really have a much more meaningful impact in terms of reducing CO2 emissions, that would more than compensate the emissions from the oil carried in the Keystone XL pipeline, if it invested some of this money into its local universities and R&E network — Cybera.

Although on the production side the tar sands are one of the biggest sources of CO2 emissions, the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) industry, globally is the fastest growing and soon will be the largest source of CO2 emissions on the consumption side of the equation. ICT emissions are produced indirectly from the coal generated electricity that is used to power all of our devices. Currently it is estimated that ICT consumes around 10% all electrical power growing at about 6-10% per year. According to the OECD and other studies ICT equipment in our home now consumes more energy than traditional appliances.

New studies suggest that the growth in wireless networks could be the single largest component of that growth in CO2 emissions from the ICT sector. In a recent report by the Centre for Energy-Efficient Communications, at the University of Melbourne-based research centre claimed that by 2015, the energy used to run data centres will be a "drop in the ocean", compared to the wireless networks used to access cloud services. The report predicts that by 2015 energy consumption associated with 'wireless cloud' will reach 43 terawatt-hours, compared to 9.2 terawatt-hours in 2012. This is an increase in carbon footprint from 6 megatonnes of CO2 in 2012, up to 30 megatonnes of CO2 in 2015, which is the equivalent of an additional 4.9 million cars on the road, the report states.

More worrisome is another report from Sweden KTH that predicts will need to increase the density of wireless base stations by 1000 times to meet the insatiable demand for the "wireless cloud". If this came to fruition, it would be incredibly huge jump in the demand of electricity by the ICT sector.

The wireless industry in particular is an ideal sector to be powered by local renewable energy sources such as solar panels and windmills. Already many wireless towers in the developing world are powered by renewable energy (but unfortunately often with diesel backup). Because of it is inherently distributed, lower power architecture the wireless industry is ideally suited to be powered by local renewable energy.

I have long advocated that universities and R&E networks are the ideal environment for deploying wireless networks that are powered solely by local renewable power sources. By integrating WIfI and 4G networks with multiple over lapping cells it would be possible to provide seamless service zero carbon wireless services.

For more details see:

High Level Architecture for Building Zero Carbon Internet Networks , ICT products and services

Alberta could be a world leader in deploying such zero carbon networks starting first at universities in partnership with Cybera. The global CO2 impact of developing such technology in terms of removing additional 4.9 million cars from the road would be much greater than expected emissions from the oil to be carried in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline

Additional pointers:

Cloud's real ecological timebomb: Wireless, not data centres

Thousand times greater density of base stations
J. Zander, P. Mähönen, "Riding the Data Tsunami in the Cloud – Myths and Challenges in Future Wireless Access", IEEE Communications Magazine, Vol 51, Issue: 3 (March 2013), pages 145-151 http://theunwiredpeople.com/author/jenz/

Solar powered WiFi allows control of bugs instead of using pesticides

ICT industry on track to be largest sector for CO 2 emissions

Solar Powered DIY Portable HotSpot

More on revenue opportunities for R&E and open access networks – building next generation "5G" wireless network

By Bill St. Arnaud , Green IT Networking Consultant

Related topics: Access Providers, Broadband, Cloud Computing, Data Center, Networks, Wireless


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