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DESC Comes of Age

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sharper.jpgBy Stephen Harper, Intel's global director of environment and energy policy

With the re-launch of our website, the Intel-founded Digital Energy Solutions Campaign (DESC) celebrates two years of growth and progress. DESC was founded two years ago by Intel and a small group of information and communications technology (ICT) companies with two primary missions. First, to communicate the contribution that ICT can make to help reduce the energy and climate footprint of other sectors of the economy. Second, to press for innovative public policies that enable and support that role by removing barriers to the full deployment of ICT energy efficiency (EE) solutions.

Getting the word out is important because the received wisdom is that the ICT is sector is a big part of the energy and climate problem, given that analysts estimate that the sector accounts for 2 percent of the world’s energy and climate footprint. And that number is growing. The direct footprint of our industry includes the “embedded carbon” in our products (carbon expended in the process of making ICT devices), but mostly reflects the energy consumed in using ICT devices. This 2 percent is what we call the “micro story.” The Japanese call this “Green of ICT.”

Truth is that our industry continues to make significant progress in making our devices more efficient with each new generation. Over the last 30 years, by way of comparison, the fuel efficiency (miles per gallon) of automobiles has improved by approximately 40 percent. By contrast, using a similar work divided by energy input metric (instructions per second per watt), the energy efficiency of semiconductors has improved by almost 3 million percent. But, because ICT devices increasingly proliferate in the market place, and because of successful efforts to bridge the ‘digital divide’ by making ICT devices available to more of the world’s population, the total energy consumed by ICT devices collectively continues to grow. Pretty soon we will be up to 3 percent.

Whether the direct footprint of the ICT industry is 2 or 3 percent, that leaves the rest of society’s footprint at 97 or 98 percent. And the vision of DESC was to tell the story of how ICT devices, networked together, can help reduce that much larger footprint. This is what we call the “macro story.” The Japanese call this “Green by ICT.”

DESC came around when the time was right for telling the story of ICT’s current and future contribution to reducing the 98 percent. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) had recently completed a study for the Technology CEO Council showing how ICT had historically helped to increase the energy efficiency of the US economy. Shortly thereafter, The Climate Group and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) released their Smart 2020 studies showing the significant prospective carbon-reducing potential of ICTs. The Smart 2020 study focused on the US estimated that ICTs could reduce US climate gas emissions by up to 20 percent by 2020 against a ‘business as usual’ baseline. It is safe to say that there are very few climate change policy options that have that magnitude of potential. (ACEEE, the Technology CEO Council, and The Climate Group are all now DESC affiliates.)

The Smart 2020 reports, as well as other studies done by the World Wildlife Fund and others, not only estimate the potential of ICTs to reduce society’s energy and carbon footprint. They also illustrate the many examples of how ICTs can have this positive impact, including smart industrial motors, smart logistics systems, smart buildings and homes, smart electricity grids, travel substitution, and intelligent transportation systems. The key words are “smart” and “intelligent,” meaning the application of ICT hardware and software to traditional personal and economic tasks to make them more energy efficient.

So ACEEE showed the past contribution of ICTs to making the US economy more energy efficient. And the Smart 2020 studies showed the future potential contribution ICTs can make. So what stands between historical actual and realizing the even greater future potential? The answer is public policy. Much of the potential contribution of ICTs comes from market failures and barriers, including lack of information, perceived high upfront costs, “principal/agent” issues, and other impediments that only good public policies can really address.

This is where the second mission of DESC comes into focus. DESC is dedicated to promoting the types of public policies, especially at the US Federal level, that will promote and enable ICTs to realize their full potential contribution as part of the energy efficiency and climate solution set. We pursue this objective through a combination of direct lobbying, both on our own and with our affiliates, as well as through speaking at conferences and workshops, as well as through this website. With a new, improved and redesigned website, look for us to be more active than ever in our influencing efforts going forward.

Finally, a word about DESC internationally. While we primarily are focused on US policy, DESC has initiated “franchise” operations in India and China. By “franchise” we simply mean that these off-shore groups are locally “owned and operated” by DESC-US member company subsidiaries, local ICT companies, and US and local affiliate organizations with operations in those countries. While DESC-India and DESC-China are very new, they both have forged close relationships with their country governments and have undertaken interesting programs of work. In addition, DESC has close working relationships with equivalent endeavors in Europe (The ICT for Energy Efficiency Forum) and in Japan (the Green IT Promotion Council). Obviously there is a lot going on in the “Green by ICT” space. Look to this website for future news of these efforts.