4th FI Cluster workshop held in Budapest today focused on ICT and Sustainability. The keynote presentation from Rahim Tafazolly at the University of Surrey got straight to the point: Are we green or Energy Efficient? The issues are not the same, they are related but the drivers are distinctly different.
In 1970s Paul Ehrlich, a leading ecological economist, developed the I PAT equation to describe the impact of human activity on the environment. Human Impact (I) on the environment equals the product of P= Population, A= Affluence, T= Technology. Unlike many economists, Ehrlich believed exponential economic growth could not be sustained due to the biophysical limits of the environment.
The presentations throughout the workshop gave indications of the limits. Massive predicted growth in Internet use, huge growth in energy consumption, the depreciation of natural capital necessary to keep the data centres, base stations and access devices running where all seen as the drivers for new energy efficient ICT solutions. The missing economic piece in the project presentations was the overarching driver for increased growth, an essential part of the capitalist ideology which we all participate in. Energy efficiency measures are there to reduce costs and increase profits. In fact, none of the technology described will actually save energy within the overall energy system. History shows us that efficiency will only increase consumption of ICT services. Service providers need to maintain the potential for growth and this is essentially the “Buy One Get One 50% Off” supermarket view on energy saving unless of course the source of energy is from renewables. An interesting conflict all the same: how can consumers be incentivised to consume less, reduce ecological footprints and material expectations whilst maintaining constant expansion and growth? Watch the debate between Paul Ehrlich and Stephen Hayward below.
That being said inventing measures to increase the efficiency of ICT is a valuable and necessary endeavour considering the large role the Future Internet is expected to play in modern society. We just need to be clear on the separation of concerns and not confuse energy efficiency with sustainability of the planet’s ecosystem.
The research projects themselves focus on a range of strategies and mechanisms for energy consumption within the network infrastructure:
ICT Earth is investigating and proposing mechanisms to reduce energy wastage and improve energy efficiency of mobile broadband communication systems, without compromising users perceived “quality” of service and system capacity
C2Power will research, develop and demonstrate energy saving technologies for multi-standard wireless mobile devices, exploiting the combination of cognitive radio and cooperative strategies
GEYSERS concentrates on the integration and virtualisation of optical network and IT infrastructures considering energy models that allow monitoring and decision support on active energy management
EcoNET provides adaptive technologies for standby and performance scaling with consumption reduction by 50-80%
An important part of the debate considered the pros and cons of centralised vs decentralised architectures. This covered mobile basestations (femptocells vs macrocells) as well as the trend to putting everything into the cloud, especially with the emergence of Google's Chromebook.
The afternoon dsicussed ICT’s impact on the improving the efficiency of existing economic processes such as buildings and logistics. There was much less debate when discussing these issues as the benefits generally agreed upon. Technology to provide improved situational awareness and decision support to better balance supply and demand considering the increased volatility from renewables and distributed generation was considered a good thing. The FI-PPP FINSENY will explores how the energy grid can evolve into a smart energy system that can support the dynamic requirements of society in 2020 and beyond. The major point of discussion was dealing with the diversity, quantity and timeliness of data needed to provide actionable insight. However, the debate did not get further than the recent presentation by Mikhail Simonov during the Information as an Economic Good at FIA Ghent on “The enabling role of the information broker” in the energy Grid.
I leave you with a final thought from Albrecht Fehske, TU Dresden, ICT Earth Project, in a discussion on over provisioning of wireless connectivity in Sweden “Companies sell us technology one month to provide networks with high availability, and then sell us another product or service the next month to help us switch it off!” So it seems that the future will be as much about understanding the operational, legal, and ethical issues of switching the Internet off as it is to providing ubiquitous connectivity.