Digital technologies can play an important role in addressing climate change, by facilitating greater energy efficiency within businesses and society, and potentially leading to significant reductions in carbon emissions. For example, the automation of industrial processes can reduce environmental impacts through more efficient manufacturing and industrial processes and greater optimisation of supply chains. However, digital technologies also have environmental costs, including their associated energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Analysis suggests that the total global energy consumption and carbon emissions of IT systems have levelled-off or decreased in recent years due to the increased energy efficiency of devices and their components, better power management and increased use of renewable energy. Despite this, it is unclear how well improvements in efficiency can keep pace with the predicted future increase in data and demand for digital services. According to the International Energy Agency, strong government and industry efforts on energy efficiency, renewables procurement, and research and development, will be necessary to limit growth in energy demand and emissions over the next decade.

This POSTnote will focus on the energy consumption of data centres and data transmission networks, which are forecast to be the main contributors to IT energy demands over the next decade. It will give an overview of trends in energy consumption and forecasts for how this is likely to change with the deployment of new technologies such as 5G, virtual reality and distributed ledger technologies (which underpin cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin). It will discuss current Government and industry initiatives to reduce energy consumption and emissions, and further actions that might be taken.


Photo by Krzysztof Kowalik on Unsplash

New POST work: July 2021

The POST board has approved 5 new POSTnotes. From conversion therapy and genome editing, to space defense and early childhood education, find out how to contribute as an expert.

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