Is the Digital Revolution Helping or Hurting Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gases?

Energy Efficiency in the Digital Age: A Win-Win

Huffington Post, June 1, 2015. Image credit: FirmBee

Three billion personal computers in use today consume more than 1% of energy production, and 30 million computer servers use an added 1.5% of global electricity generation. And it’s not just computers using all of this power. The explosion of smartphones, tablets and the other digitally enabled devices – the so called “Internet of Things” – is causing all of those numbers to escalate. By 2020, the estimate is that there will be 50 billion connected devices – about seven devices for every person on the planet today – that are forecasted to consume 14% of global electricity generation.

So, with this large and growing power demand, is the digital revolution helping or hurting efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses? A panel discussion at the recent Boston College Corporate Citizenship Conference dug into this question. The panel featured Sam Naffziger, Corporate and IEEE Fellow from AMD; Dr. Neal Elliott at ACEEE; Chris Lloyd of Verizon; and Dr. Michael Webber from the University of Texas. Titled “The Future Is Energy Efficiency: How the Digital Revolution Affects Sustainability,” this discussion explored the sustainability implications of the technology revolution and the trend lines that will impact the future.

Obviously, conserving energy is an important issue for the technology industry. By saving energy, we can help reduce costs, preserve natural resources and mitigate the climate impacts associated with energy production and use. Case in point: About a year ago AMD announced a goal to improve the energy efficiency of its mobile processors by 25 times by the year 2020 from a 2014 baseline. It’s an ambitious goal but one worth aiming for. Using a car analogy, this rate of improvement would be like turning a 100-horsepower car that gets 30 miles per gallon into a 500-horsepower car that gets 150 miles per gallon in only six years.

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