The European Union Takes the Next Step in Realizing the Energy Efficiency Potential of ICT

As climate cognoscenti undoubtedly know, Europe has pledged itself to meet a goal of reducing both EU climate emissions and energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020. Certainly the European Union has set itself more ambitious targets in the carbon and energy efficiency realm than any other country or region that has affiliated itself with the so-called Copenhagen Accord.

Achieving this target will require progress on many fronts. Clearly, information and communications technology (ICT) can contribute a lot to the effort. As the “Smart 2020” study http://www.smart2020.org/ completed in 2008 by The Climate Group and GeSI made clear, ICT can enable greater energy efficiency in other sectors of economy and society, with energy efficiency being the most cost-effective means of making quick climate progress. The Smart 2020 report put the potential saving of 7.8 Gt CO2e in 2020, in other words, 15% of global emissions.

But potential is just that, it isn’t actuality. What clearly is required – in the European Union and elsewhere – to turn potential into actuality is good public policies that encourage and drive the adoption of energy efficiency-enabling technologies.

The European Commission has realized this for some time and has been taking steps to deliver on the policy front. Dating back to a formal Communications in 2008, the Commission has been pressing the case both for the ICT industry to do more to reduce its own energy and carbon footprint and to increase its contribution to reducing the overall footprint of Europe.

Perhaps the biggest step was taken last week as the leading European ICT trade associations DIGITALEUROPE, TechAmerica Europe, the Japan Business Council in Europe and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) launched the ICT For Energy Efficiency (ICT4EE) Forum with the endorsement of the European Commission. My Intel colleague, Kirsty Macdonald, the leader on this issue in DIGITALEUROPE, worked with others in our industry to get the ICT4EE Forum off the ground and make this event a big success. After a successful launch, the work is only just beginning. The work elements in the Forum’s 2010-12 Roadmap include 1) improving the energy & carbon footprint of ICT processes ahead of the EU’s 2020 timeframe 2) fostering future investment and regulatory frameworks to support the deployment of low carbon enabling technologies in the energy, buildings and transport sectors and 3) working with policy makers to encourage more energy efficient behavior. More information can be found at ict4ee.eu.

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This new initiative is promising, to be sure. Commission officials speaking at the launch event in Brussels emphasized the need for the European ICT industry to have a sense of “urgency” in both reducing its own energy and carbon footprint as well as using its technology to help other sectors do the same. There were calls for the ICT industry to collaborate with other sectors to this end, cooperative effort that no doubt will ensue. But the reality is that companies and individuals as a rule do not invest in new technologies unless (a) they have to, as a result of a government mandate, or (b) there is a clear economic motivation to invest due to cost savings, either because of prices in the market or government financial incentives. This is where the government – in this case the European Union – comes in.

The ultimate test of the success of the ICT4EE Forum will come down the road a bit and will largely depend on whether the European Commission will develop policy ideas and support projects coming out of the Forum’s activities. This will be particularly important regarding the Forum’s work element #2, given all the evidence that ICT’s contribution to the efficiency of other sectors is a large multiple of the impact it can have in improving the efficiency of its own processes and products.

Stay tuned, we will report out periodically on the activities of the Forum over the next several years

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