When Bob Dylan screeched that the times were “a changing” back in the 1960s, he prophetically foresaw that the waters of socio-political change were rising fast and that if we didn’t start swimming we would “sink like a stone”.
Forty years on, if you take these lyrics and apply them in an environmental rather than political sense, they are still poignant because global warming is having an unprecedented and catastrophic impact on our sea levels.
The IT industry is one such industry that is contributing to the rise in greenhouse gasses that are helping to melt our polar ice caps and, if unchecked, look very likely by 2100 to drench many millions to “the bone”. New York could disappear with a 0.4m rise in sea levels, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
These stark, inconvenient truths were part of the message from Schneider Electric, which used the UN designated World Environment day, on 5 June, to declare a “war on waste” against inefficient IT. The company is promoting a concept it calls Ecostructure, which aims to help the IT, construction and utility industries promote IT and building efficiency and reduce carbon emissions and power consumption.
Part of the problem, according to chief marketing officer Aaron Davis, is that the digital revolution requires an energy revolution. Quoting IBM, Davis says, “Last year, humans produced more transistors than rice (and at a lower cost).” And this is subsequently causing unprecedented power demands. Always-connected devices, such as Blackberries, place the equivalent power load on the server as 60 light bulbs, he says.
But with changes in behaviour and good system design, Davis argues that IT managers and CEOs can start using energy intelligently to reduce the 30% of power typically wasted in datacentres.
Neil Rasmussen, chief innovation officer for IT business at Schenieder Electric, says, “Every person and every business is going to be affected by the energy challenge. “
“The good news is that we do have a lot of energy sources that will last many generations. The bad news is that if we use them, there is some argument that we might destroy the planet in a few generations.”
Using Ehrlich’s IPAT equation, which measures is the impact on the environment resulting from consumption - where P is the population number, A is the consumption per capita (affluence) and T is the technology factor - Rasmussen illustrated that 28 billion tonnes of CO2 is injected into the atmosphere every year. This is based on a population of 6.8 billion people with a GDP of $8,000 generating half a tonne of CO2 for every $1,000 of GDP.
“We see that in 2050, if we didn’t change our technology 54 billion tonnes of CO2 would be released into the atmosphere every year, simply because of the increase in population and the increase in GDP around the world,” Rasmussen warned.
The best climate change analysis suggests that we have to “hold the line at 450ppm” of CO2 in the atmosphere to guarantee that we don’t have massive climate change which could lead to the melting the polar caps and ice sheets in Greenland. Rasmussen claims technology has to decarbonise and reduce our emissions per GDP by a factor of 10 to hold the line.
US energy secretary Steven Chu agrees. “The most dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will come from energy efficiency and conservation,” he says.
Power not a priority
But one of the problems facing IT managers, CIOs and CEOs today is that they don’t have a good handle on their consumption of power or what they need to do to reduce it or what they need to do to save costs. Added to the lack of information there is also the general feeling that inefficient IT is not broken so therefore not at the top of many fix lists.
APC has delivered a suite of online tools such as power consumption calculators and a carbon calculator to give IT managers, CEOs and end-users some metrics and parameters to understand what their current consumption is and where potential savings can be made.
Andy Lawrence, research director for Eco Efficient IT at analyst 451, says “ When you go inside companies, the awareness of the decisions companies make about carbon emissions is low.
“There needs to be better awareness in the IT, construction and energy industries of energy costs that feeds its way back up to the CEO. This awareness of the energy implications doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be there.”
Greenpeace international climate campaigner Melanie Francis says, “The majority of IT companies talk big about ‘going green’, rather than giving any real evidence of how their software and hardware is actually reducing emissions. It is high time they put their money where their mouths are and deliver real evidence of their solutions in action.”
Schneider Electric tackles energy challenge
Schneider Electric is transforming itself from a cooling specialist into a company offers end-to-end products, services and software to help companies face the energy challenge.
“We have a challenge to be perceived as a solution provider. This is a message to get out there and we have a capability that needs to be understood that is both products and solutions,” says Chris Curtis, executive vice-president for North America.
With 120-odd brands and 800,000 unique products, the company is looking to rationalise its product range.
It does need to improve its cost structure, especially as it as a company of 600 legal entities. But it is finding it difficult to transfer people around its business units and rationalise structure around this. “The only people that get happy about that [its legal entities] are accountants and lawyers, “ says Curtis.
This was first published in June 2009