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Get smart – the green ICT revolution

The SMART 2020 report recently concluded that smarter technology use can reduce global carbon emissions by up to 15% and save EUR 500 billion in energy costs by 2020. So it was only natural that an environmentally conscious and ICT...

Traditionally, growth in the ICT industry has been thought to be at odds with a low carbon economy. This sector contributes 2% of global emissions and is expected to double by 2020. But according to the Smart 2020 report published by the Climate Group last year, ICT’s ability to monitor and maximise energy efficiency could cut CO2 emissions by up to five times that amount.

This represents a savings of 7.8 Giga-tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2020 – greater than the current annual emissions of either the US or China. The four main areas for savings are smart industry motors and industrial automation, smart logistics, smart buildings, and smart grid technologies.

“It’s not rocket science. It’s just very smart,” says Benedicte Fasmer Waaler, Project Leader at Green IT, an environmentally focused ICT project founded in 2007 under IKT Norge. “By measuring what you do, you can reduce emissions.”

Smart 2020 report “Enabling the Low Carbon Economy in the Information Age” says ICT could enable emission reductions of 7.8 Gt CO2 equivalents in 2020, or 15% of business as usual emissions. © The Climate Group

Smart Buildings

A big area for savings will come from buildings, the second highest consumer of power behind industry. The Smart 2020 report estimates that better design, management and automation, smart buildings could save 1.68 GtCO2 of emissions worth EUR 216 billion. This could include building management systems that run heating and cooling systems according to occupancy or software that switches off all PCs and monitors after everyone has gone home.

One of the most energy efficient office buildings in Norway is Telenor’s regional office in Kokstad, Bergen. It won international real estate organization FIABCI’s prestigious Prix d’Excellence in 2003 for its use of high technology installations and advanced electronic control systems. The building has an electricity consumption rate of less than 100 kWh/m2 per year. Part of the savings are through automation, such as sensors that turn on lights when people arrive and steer the temperature based on how many people there are in a room.

Another way to bring down energy costs is to design a “passive” building. Architect Steinsvik in Tromsø has developed an i-box 120, an intelligently designed 120 square metre house that uses passive heating. The core of its hi-tech design is a balanced ventilation system that uses solar energy, and even body heat, to warm up the house. The house is designed to consume less than 6,000 kWh per year in energy and produce a surplus in the summer. A conventional house in the same size would typically use about 25,000.

The Norwegian Government has promoted the use of passive buildings in its Future City plan launched this May. A total of 13 Norwegian cities plan to participate in the environmental programme to convert each of the selected cities into a more climate friendly place, whether it be more bicycle paths, taxing commuter parking, or powering buses from garbage. By 2030, the plan should have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 34% compared to 1991.

Steinsvik Arkitektkontor AS Smart Buidling: Architect Steinsvik in Tromsø has developed an i-box 120, an intelligently designed 120 square metre house that uses passive heating.

Smart Logistics & Grids

Smart logistics presents a great opportunity for carbon savings. Here the industry could reduce 1.52 GtCO2 equivalents in emissions worth EUR 208 billion by 2020. By placing radio frequency ID tags on goods, for example, companies can control the temperature of goods and avoid transporting half empty trucks, said Frode Meltzer, Telenor climate champion.

Telenor Iris offers subscription-based services for businesses engaged in tracking electronic information from various devices, such as RFID and bar code readers, also known as machine-to-machine communication (M2M). It has partnered with IBM to create a new, hosted business model to deliver RFID-based asset management to small and medium businesses based on simplified and standardised M2M applications.

Technology can also be used to save energy through managed driving routes. By pre-routing a delivery that avoids left turns, for example, logistics companies in the US have been able to reduce the amount of fuel wasted from having to stop at red traffic lights. Similarly, Q-Free in Trondheim has developed a Free Flow system where vehicles are tolled with having to pass through specific toll plazas or lanes, or reduce their speed.

In 2007, Norwegian State Railways NSB introduced an automated energy metering on its trains, together with Swedish Baneverket and Danish Banedanmark, which gives NSB 10-15% savings on conductors’ travelling patterns (approximately 25 million kWh/year), a halving of power consumption in parked materials, and lowered driving consumption for heating and ventilation.

Another large opportunity for savings is through smart grid technologies. According to Smart 2020 report, this technology could reduce 2.03 GtCO2 equivalents worth EUR 79 billion through better monitoring and management of electricity grids, first with smart meters and then through integrating more advanced ICT into the “energy Internet.”

A smart grid is a set of software and hardware tools that enable generators to route power more efficiently, reducing the need for excess capacity and allowing two-way, real-time information exchange with customers for real-time demand side management. Telenor Cinclus, for example, has installed 835,000 metering points for Fortums’s household customers in one of the largest projects in the Nordics and Europe’s largest smart meter management project based on GPRS.

Norwegian Minister of Government Administration and Reform Heidi Grand Røys presented the first Rosing Award for Green IT to the Halden Centre for Expertise for helping create the first power exchange in the world, as well as the world’s first operational system for emissions trading. © Grønli Group/Casper Brekke


The ICT industry is working on new ways to save energy from virtual meetings and de-materialization, the replacement of a physical product through ICT solutions. Downloading a MP3 music file or an audio book over the Internet saves the production, packaging and transport energy costs that go with it. De-materialization and substitution represent about 6% of the estimated low carbon benefits the ICT sector can deliver.

One way is to create a paperless office, such as the one developed by Software Innovation in Bergen. The Norwegian company partnered with Microsoft to create the first paperless city government. The solution for paperless case workflow, 360° Politicians Workplace, has eliminated 515,000 of needless paper and 36 tonnes of CO2 pollution. The reduced paper usage alone will save the municipality of Bergen NOK 410,000 every year.

“Each commissioner in the city government used to receive about 500 pages of case documents every week,” said Andreas Høistad, Head of ICT Business Development at the municipality of Bergen. “A small TabletPC with an electronic pen is all they need.”

Still, the largest opportunity within dematerialization lies within tele-working. Tandberg, a leading global provider of tele-presence and mobile video solutions, estimates that its customers have been able to reduce their travel needs by 30%. A large organization can replace upwards of 20,000 round-trip, short-haul flights annually with video meetings, saving 2,200 tons of CO2. Tandberg helped delivery company TNT cut travel by 20% and save EUR 11 million over four years and significantly reduced carbon emissions.

Telenor has lowered its travel internally through its Way of Work project, which replaces travel with virtual meetings. The technology was originally seen as a way to stay connected across Telenor’s vast global network in 13 countries across Europe and Asia. Now, it is part of a goal to reduce travel by 20%. Telenor’s overall ambition is to reduce its CO2 emission intensity (measured as CO2 per value added) from global operations by 40% compared to 2007 levels.

“It’s more environmentally friendly to move bytes than molecules,” said Meltzer.

Smart Green Growth

The Norwegian ICT industry is now looking at ways to create new business opportunities for the new low carbon economy. The concept, called Smart Green Growth, was launched last year by Norwegian IT member organization Abelia, a member of the Norwegian Confederation of Business Enterprises (NHO).

According to the Smart Green Growth report concluded in May, the industry faces a fundamental shift in society and business as a result of resource and climate change. Current initiatives lead to structure preservation rather than renewal and innovation. But through smart green growth, climate threat can rather be seen as an opportunity for knowledge-based businesses.

The development of ICT services could help industry adjust to a more carbon neutral society, either by replacing material things or making material things smarter. In some cases, the technology is already there.

“It’s mainly about business models,” said Tarje Bjørkum, Abelia Senior Policy Strategist. “It’s not about creating new technology. It’s about how you use it.”