Report: Tech sector could cut U.S. emissions 22% by 2020

Global study shows that using information technology to improve buildings, grids, travel and transportation has the potential to cut 7.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide worldwide.

A new report released today from the Global e-Sustainability Initiative shows that the U.S. is the country most suited to slash emissions using today’s information and communications technology (ICT).

The study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, released at the SMART 2020 conference in Washington, D.C., expanded upon earlier research by the Climate Group about the ICT sector’s ability to lower emissions across the globe.

Emissions attributable to ICT are projected to nearly double by 2020 from today’s levels to about 3 percent of global emissions. However, the same ICT could then lower total U.S. emissions 13 percent to 22 percent and global emissions about 15 percent from today’s levels, said Philipp Jung, a partner with Boston Consulting Group.

Those savings in the U.S. translate to a gross energy and fuel savings of $140 billion to $240 billion, the study said.

Most of the applications of ICT would concentrate on improving transportation, buildings, the electric grid and reducing travel. Jung said he thought such goals were achievable if governments create the right standards, incentives, R&D programs and education campaigns.

"There are some things the industry itself can do, such as articulating a business case for using teleconferencing," Jung told the Cleantech Group. "But real adoption requires mandates, incentives, government spending and guidelines."

The U.S. could make bigger gains than the rest of the globe because it has significant improvements to be made, especially in transportation and building, Jung said. Additionally, the U.S. is moving more quickly than other countries toward a services-based economy, which could benefit from ICT, he said.

Molly Webb, ICT program director for the Climate Group, said a carbon tax is one solution that could drive the adoption of ICT.

"There’s nothing new about energy efficiency, but it’s hugely challenging to meet those targets the study projects," she said. "It’s not a technological challenge; it’s a new challenge in how we approach the adoption of these technologies."

The reports’ estimations about U.S. and global reductions depend on many factors, including economic conditions. Webb said the recent economic downturn, for example, could slow emissions and reduce the economic case behind adopting the technologies, she said.

The U.S.-focused report recommendations that the government:

  • Provide incentives for utilities to invest in smart-grid technologies and energy efficiency improvements.

  • Lead by example and integrate smart-grid technologies into federally owned utilities.

  • Expand investment in smart infrastructure for roads and road-related equipment.

  • Use incentives and mandates to increase the energy efficiency of new and existing buildings.

  • Introduce environmental requirements into the certification process for building professionals.

  • Encourage R&D in smart buildings, especially where industry is under-investing.

  • Encourage travel substitution through virtual meetings and flexible work arrangements by leading by example and sharing best practices.

The report is available here »

By Emma Ritch, Cleantech Group

You can return to the main Market News page, or press the Back button on your browser.