Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Include ICT Sustainability in ACT Climate Change Plan

The ACT Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Simon Corbell MLA, released "Weathering the Change Draft Action Plan 2" for comment on 5 December 2011. There is a media release "Government proposes five pathways to reach carbon neutrality" and a two page "Draft Action Plan 2 summary", as well as the 80 page full report. Comments are invited on the ACT Government "Time to Talk" discussion forum and face-to-face forums will be held in in February 2012.

The "five pathways" in the draft plan are:
  1. Renewable energy, with some carbon offsets.
  2. Building energy efficiency, sustainable transport and waste recovery, plus renewable energy.
  3. Gas fired electricity generation, plus building energy efficiency, sustainable transport and waste recovery.
  4. Carbon offsets, plus building energy efficiency, sustainable transport and waste recovery.
  5. Carbon offsets

In my view, energy efficiency should be the first option and offsets the last, with gas fired electricity and renewable energy in between. The advantage of energy efficiency is that, as well as reducing carbon emissions, it also lower costs, in the long term. The disadvantage of offsets is that they cost more and are of questionable environmental value: essentially you are paying someone else to do something which you should have done yourself. Renewable energy, such as wind and solar, are good in the long term, but are currently expensive. Gas fired electricity is reasonably low carbon, particularly when combined with building heating and cooling in a "tri-generation" plant.

Reduce building emissions 25% using ICT

The obvious first step is for the ACT Government to make its own operations energy efficient. One way is to reduce the energy use of office buildings. Currently about 25% of the carbon emissions of these buildings are caused by computer and telecommunications equipment (ICT). By using the techniques I teach in the course "ICT Sustainability" (including to ACT Government staff), the carbon emissions of these buildings could be reduced by 25%, along with a reduction in the electricity bill. The ACT Government could also encourage private companies to make their offices more efficient (the federal government already has a program for this).

Build inconspicuous gas fired electricity generators

The ACT Government can also avoid the problems they had with the previous proposed gas fired power station, by not proposing something which is called a "power station" and looks like one. The "Canberra Technolofy City" data center proposal incorporated a gas fired plant. This only took up a small part of the proposed data centre, but the artists rendering did not make this clear. The complex had tall towers which made it look like a coal fired power station. Small gas generating plants in office buildings have not met with the opposition this large scale proposal had. These plants are called "tri-generation plants" and have inconspicuous exhaust stacks.

Open Access to Reduce Carbon Emissions

The ACT Government has applied a restrictive copyright to its report, limiting distribution and use of the information. I suggest the ACT Government adopt an open access policy, making information freely available. This will allow information about how to reduce carbon emissions to be more readily available.

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