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Reducing Energy Waste in Telecommunications

2012 July 31
by Tom Watson

This is rather old news to the communications technology business, but I doubt very many people outside that field know about it: “GreenTouch Initiative”.  Organized by Bell Labs, a division of Alcatel-Lucent, their goal is to reduce communication network energy usage 1000-fold.

Greentouch logoMost of the energy usage reduction we learn about in media is pointed at automotive fuel efficiency and light bulb wattage, keeping them (more or less) in the front of our minds. Few of us, however, hear or think about the less obvious ways in which we use energy at work and at home, like landline and cellular-based telecommunications. Every time we pull up a web site, run an app that accesses information somewhere else, or make a phone call whether land line or cellular we are accessing the communication network, and using electricity, even when we are using battery-powered devices. Reducing this energy usage even a little can save a lot on electricity use.

The GreenTouch Initiative goal of 1,000-fold reduction is going to make a lot more than just a dent in energy usage. Simply put, it is “…roughly equivalent to being able to power the world’s communications networks, including the Internet, for three years using the same amount of energy that it currently takes to run them for a single day.” –  GreenTouch Initiative press release, January 2010. (read the release)

This is a truly important initiative. Although landline usage is dropping (the Economist) and high-speed broadband cable growth has slowed (European Communications, DailyIPTV), mobile communications continues to grow dramatically with the speedy rise of smartphones and tablet computers worldwide (MIT). Energy efficiency must also grow dramatically in order to offset the additional consumption due to that growth, while still reducing overall energy consumption. It is the consortium’s finding, according to research conducted by Bell Labs, that communications network energy efficiency can be improved 10,000 times.

Greentouch Projects image

According to the Green Touch Initiative itself:  “Even a 2% contribution to global emissions and energy consumption is significant – the network component of this represents some 250-300 million tons of carbon emissions. This is equivalent to 50 million automobiles or 20% of the cars in the United States.” Their goal is to accomplish this in three to five years, and their launch was in January 2010. Visit the GreenTouch web site to learn more about the progress of this initiative, and check out their projects.

If you are aware of other similar initiatives to reduce energy waste – or even reduction of waste in the design, manufacture, and distribution of goods – share it here in Comments.

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