Monday, August 20, 2007

Reducing Carbon Emissions from the ICT Industry

Last Thursday the Australian Computer Society issued a study of carbon emissions from the ICT industry and policy statement on how to reduce them. This included some suggestions I made. I will be expanding on them at the Green CIO conference in Sydney Tuesday.

The ACS recommended:
  1. Extending the Energy Rating System to ICT equipment for domestic and commercial use
  2. Innovative technologies to reduce power consumption
  3. Carbon offsets to help offset the emissions being produced by ICT equipment used in the office
  4. Virtualisation to replace servers
  5. Disable screen savers and implement ‘sleep mode’ for inactive equipment.

Some themes I will be talking about at the Green CIO conference:
It will be interesting to see what the IT vendors have to offer. It will be a lot easier to get both commercial and home users to be greener if there are some new stuff they can buy, rather than just telling them to do more with less.

Photovoltaic Trough Concentrator SystemIt is tempting to look for some sort of grand scheme to lower energy use in IT (such as when I suggested in 2003 the Chinese government put solar cells on data centers). But there is a need for a change in attitude by clients so that suppliers can have a market for products. Also there are changes the clients can make themselves in how they use the products.

IT staff up to now have not made energy efficiency a priority because their bosses and clients have not seen it as one. You would have not got sacked if your data system used 10% more power than the industry average, but you would if it was 10% less reliable.

Because this has not been a priority for the customer it has not been priority for the IT industry, so we do not have standards and guidelines to help us reduce energy and know what is good. That is now being addressed by the ACS, with the carbon audit of ICT, policy and the Green ICT Group. IT professionals have an ethical obligation to act in the public interest, even if individual customers do not want us to.

There are opportunities for IT professionals to be part of the green message of their organization. This can involve industry, government and university. A good example is the Defence Department's recently announced "Defence Future Capability Technology Centre" (DFCTC) to work on defence research projects with industry and universities from mid 2008. Much of this research, such as that on explosives, electronic warfare and electromagnetics will be defence specific, but the other areas have commercial application.

Tenix-Navantia Landing Helicopter Dock Ship Cross Section DiagramAs an example, technologies for battlespace management are similar to those used in business, particularly with the adoption of common Internet and web tools. Recently I suggested that containerized "smart rooms" could be tested as outback classrooms, before being deployed in 2012 on the new amphibious ships HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide. Robotic systems for the ships are also applicable to industry applications as well as the military.

Energy saving is an important issue for the military, each extra computer and telecommunications gadget has to be powered by batteries on the soldier's back or from diesel brought in by truck or ship. Reducing energy use can make room for more ammunition. The US Army is now placing an emphasis on solar power of bases to reduce fuel use.

Neo 1973 Open Source PhoneDiscussion of green issues for business have been hampered by the use of complex environmental language and an appeal to ecological concerns. IT professionals can instead talk to their client and employers about the financial benefits from saving energy. As an example i
t is very easy to explain that with a bit of extra software we can get all those smart phones they have to link to corporate systems and give them very concentrated, timely information. That will reduce the need for power hungry desktop computers.

But you can only do so much with ad hoc power saving methods. Sustainable development engineering strategies emphasize a need for an integrated approach to energy and materials saving. Business processes need to be redesigned. IT staff can work with specialists on an overall strategy. They can assist with a web site and other online facilities to get their message out to corporate employees. Include some real time graphs showing company green performance. IT professionals ca act preemptively by proposing to use environmental standards.

ThinLinX Thin Client computersThe major impediment to green IT is a lack of expertise in the IT profession. Staff and suppliers do not know what can be done, what to do, or even the language to use to describe what to do. As an example thin client systems can save money and power. But staff have little expertise with these.

The CIO can start by implementing simple measures, such as setting screen savers to reduce power, switching off unused systems automatically after hours. They can propose to implement environmental standards and provide information to staff online. But reliably economic operation must remain the priority. Environmental efficiency must come after that.

Some of the low hanging fruit are to use XML web based technology to make your applications more efficient so that a larger center is not needed. Consider outsourcing the data center to large specialists who have economies of scale.

IT professionals can help in educating other staff and providing online services which reduce travel, hardware use and the like.

It is unlikely the Government will regulate in the IT area. But the industry should get in first and implement its own guidelines and standards anyway.

Sustainable ICT can be incorporated into your strategic planning goals and targets. Strategies which will provide financial saving to offset the costs are more likely to gain corporate approaval.

Much of this will have to be a DIY effort for a few years until there are consultants and companies trained up to help. There are training materials being designed and these can be incorporated into online programs, such as the ACS Computer Professional Education Program.

The IT industry needs to look at their organisation and see if they practice what they preach, so they will be credibly be able to offer advice, products and services. IT has had a clean and efficient image. In environmental terms it is in reality a dirty wasteful business. That is a reality we have to change.

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