Smart technology could slash global emissions by 15%

The spread of mobile devices and and uptake of smart technology could help reduce global GHG emissions by up to 15% by 2030 - more than the current footprint of the EU and the US combined - according to a new report from Swedish communication technology company Ericsson.

The Ericsson Mobility Report suggests that harnessing new technologies – such as smart grids, smart transport and smart buildings – could cut around 10 gigatonnes of CO2e emissions.

The report states: “Recent studies show that in OECD countries with high ICT use, the total energy footprint (and consequently the carbon footprint) has started to decrease. Another new and important change is that as mobile device usage grows, the use of larger, less energy-efficient fixed devices declines, further reducing the energy and carbon footprint of ICT overall.”

And despite the increasing uptake of these devices, the ICT industry itself is also becoming more efficent.

Currently ICT emissions account for 1.6% of global emissions which could grow to around 2% by 2020. Of this, around 75% is related to fixed ICT devices.

The report highlights that global energy consumption in mobile networks is expected to increase by around 20% from around 108 TWh in 2015 to 132 TWh in 2021. Data traffic is set to grow by 10 times over the same period, but mobile networks have managed to improve performance from a global average of 2kWh per gigabyte transferred in 2015, to a projected 0.25 kWh in 2021 – an eight-fold improvement.

Using Sweden as an example, the report noted that data traffic increased by more than 13 times over six years, while energy consumption grew by 40%. Yet moving to mobile data traffic – projected to increase tenfold over the next six years – would halve the energy requirement.

The assessments found that energy consumption from fixed networks and equipment represents more than 85% of the total ICT energy consumption for 2015. Ericsson has noted that from a lifecycle perspective around two thirds of the company’s carbon footprint is accounted in the operations stage, with the remainder accounted under manufacturing and transport of devices.

Integral device

The report notes ICT is in a unique position to create efficiencies that help other industrial sectors to reduce their GHG emissions by up to 10 gigatonnes of CO2e by 2030.

Matilda Gennvi Gustafsson, sustainability director, Ericsson commented on the findings:  “There are a number of different sectors that can use mobile ICT to enable new business models to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Smart travel and transport solutions can play a role in reducing vehicle energy consumption, using advanced analytics to optimize routes and providing up-to-date information about congestion – helping drivers make better choices and avoid dangerous situations.

Smart meters and grids allow businesses to better monitor electricity use, which means that they can more easily manage consumption and reduce the complexity and cost of integrating use of renewable energy.” 

The report suggests harnessing smart metering for homes and grid and using tech to create a behavioural shift that increases product efficiency and protects nature as ways to reduce overall emissions. Mapping traffic optimisation and improving fleet management can also support the shift to a low-carbon future.

The phone industry has already received criticism for its ‘not fit for purpose’ business model of frequent upgrades, with the University of Surrey claiming it needs to deliver a transformational change.

A recent study also revealed that by modifying certain components of high-performing ‘gaming’ ICT systems, enough power could be saved to stop the construction of 40 500MW power plants, saving $18bn in the process.

EMR November 2015

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie