Will Europe show us the way to Carbon Neutrality?

Brussels, Belgium (GLOBE-Net) - The European Commission is turning to information and communications technologies sectors to lead the way to reducing energy use by 20 percent by 2020. The Commission says it will encourage the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, which accounts for 2% of global CO2 emissions, to lead the drive for carbon neutrality and reduce its own CO2 emissions by identifying and creating solutions that will benefit the whole economy.

In January 2007 the Commission adopted an energy and climate change package, endorsed both by the European Parliament and by EU leaders targeting a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 1990 levels and 20% renewable energy use by 2020.

Without action, the EU’s energy consumption is expected to rise by 25% by 2012, which would increase EU emissions despite renewable energy targets. However, ICT industries, if directed toward more sustainable practices, could increase energy efficiency in all areas of the economy while continuing to account for 40% of Europe’s productivity growth.

To show that green technology can bring "low carbon, high growth" to the whole economy, the Commission will focus on three energy intensive sectors:

  • Energy generation and distribution uses one third of all primary energy. Electricity generation could be made more efficient by 40% and its transport and distribution by 10%. ICT could make not only the management of power grids more efficient but also facilitate the integration of renewable energy sources. Denmark generates half its electricity through decentralized grids, with wind power accounting for 20% of all electricity. As a result, its C02 emissions fell from 937 to 517 g/kWh from 1990-2005.

  • The heating, cooling and lighting of buildings account for more than 40% of European energy consumption. ICT can continuously monitor data to optimize lighting, ventilation and equipment performance and provide consumers real-time updates on their energy consumption to stimulate behavioural changes. In Finland, this smart metering encouraged consumers to increase energy efficiency by 7%.

  • 20% of world electricity is used for lighting. Changing to energy efficient light bulbs could halve today’s energy consumption for lighting by 2025. Intelligent light bulbs, which automatically adjust to natural light and people’s presence will have an even greater effect.

According to the Commission, the real gains from green ICT will come from developing energy efficient ICT solutions that impact the other 98% of global emissions.  ICT can enable, across the economy, greener behaviour, which would massively cut Europe’s carbon footprint if widely deployed.  For instance the most advanced computer servers consume the same amount of energy as a standard light bulb; if widely used they could offer potential energy savings of up to 70%.

The commission believes ICT can both spur the development of renewable energy as well as provide energy savings through self monitoring and smart metering. 

For instance, ICTs provide the means to manage the operation of millions of small-scale electricity generators, both on behalf of their owners and for the networks into which they feed. ICT tools can use ‘smart’ technologies to monitor a range of variables and ensure that both individuals and the network as a whole gain maximum efficiency from the energy generation capacity available.

Development of such ICT tools is expected to fuel the installation of new and renewable-energy-based generation capacity, through maximizing the return on investment so making it more affordable. Renewable energy technologies are generally based on a large number of smaller sources of power, producing much closer to the location in which it is used. Technology such as windmills or photovoltaic roof panels, can be used to supply networks which is ideal for energy efficient ICT.

According to the Commission, this will require the development of new ICT applications for energy efficiency, while maintaining high standards of comfort, quality and reliability of services as well as increasing connectivity. However once these are in place, an individual householder could sell the surplus electricity produced on a sunny day or saved through smart metering to a distributor. Thousands of such connections across Europe would enable householders to pay back their investment more quickly, while Europe as a whole would make more efficient use of its energy generation capacity.

"To meet Europe’s energy efficiency goals by 2020, we need a high growth, low carbon economy. Research and rapid take-up of innovative energy efficient ICT solutions will be crucial to lowering emissions across the whole economy," said Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "There is a win-win situation in which ICT will promote the competitiveness of EU industry while leading the fight against climate change."

For More Information: European Commission - Energy Initiative

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