Scientists are taking steps to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions of the Internet and telecommunications industries? Huh? Who knew doing a Google search produced greenhouse gases, thereby contributing to climate change?
It turns out that the “information communications and technology” (ICT) industry produces more than 830 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, annually. That’s about 2 percent of global CO2 emissions — the same proportion as the aviation industry produces. Projections suggest that the ICT sector’s share of greenhouse gases is expected to double by 2020, as these services expand.
A lot of the greenhouse gas comes from electrical use, as most electricity comes from power plants that burn fossil fuels. Generators, systems to keep the electronics cooled or warmed, as well as automobile fuel that technicians use to travel to locations to provide service, all contribute to the problem.
The ICT industry, which delivers Internet, video, voice and other cloud services, knows about this problem. Providers, such as Verizon and Sprint, post information on their websites describing their efforts to reduce emissions.
In a recent paper in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers from the Centre for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications and Bell Labs note that existing models that help providers and researchers estimate emissions are inaccurate. Controlling the emissions will require more accurate but still feasible models, which would take into account the data traffic, energy use and CO2 production in networks and other elements. So the team set out to develop new approaches that better account for variations in equipment and other factors in the ICT industry.
They describe the development and testing of two new models that better estimate the energy consumption and CO2 emissions of Internet and telecommunications services. They tested the models on a simulated network and on a real network that serves most of the schools in California. Both models delivered better estimates than the current ones.
The researchers suggest, based on their models, that more efficient power usage of facilities, more efficient use of energy-efficient equipment and renewable energy sources are three keys to reducing ICT emissions of CO2.