Making the ICT sector energy efficient

The information and communication technology sector is a major energy consumer, but it also offers the potential for savings... if used properly. Let’s work smarter, writes Pernille Weiss
Adobe stock

By Pernille Weiss

Pernille Weiss (DK, EPP) is member of Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee

21 Feb 2022

As we transition to the green economy, we notice that there is still much low-hanging fruit available to make use of. Currently, the European Union is debating a raft of measures to tackle climate change, including the revision of rules to increase energy efficiency.

These methods are the most cost-effective and generic tools we have for saving the climate. The energy we do not use is better than the energy we recycle. This is because the energy we don’t use doesn’t cost anything. It doesn’t damage the environment or the climate.

“The digitisation of our society and innovation hold great promise when it comes to climate solutions”

Until we have a true abundance of clean and green energy, we must save energy in all areas and aspects of life. The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector is responsible for up to ten per cent of the world’s total energy consumption and more than two per cent of total CO2 emissions.

This includes the domain of data centres, which are, by all accounts, voracious consumers of energy and therefore need to become greener. Data centres consume a great deal of energy, but they also emit a lot, and this energy must not be wasted. 

In the EU, data centres accounted for 2.7 per cent of the total demand for electricity in 2018, and this number is expected to increase to approximately 3.2 per cent by 2030. It is therefore important that we do not shy away from the ICT sector in general and data centres, in particular when we look at t energy consumption in the EU.

The solution is not to use the ICT sector less, but to use it more and to do so smartly. The digitisation of our society and innovation holds great promise when it comes to climate solutions.

The key is to digitise in energy-efficient ways and to be energy-efficient in digital ways. The green and digital transitions, together with data centres, will strengthen the EU’s competitiveness and economic resilience. This is of paramount importance because we will need to invest a lot of money in implementing the green and digital transitions in parallel.

Both transitions are lagging behind in many regions across Europe, and we are also increasingly behind in terms of global competitors such as China and the United States. Therefore, we must recognise this reality and realise the economic and social benefits that come from data centres. 

“Until we have a true abundance of clean and green energy, we must save energy in all areas and aspects of life”

However, we should not expect data centres to fight climate change on their own. Too many of the challenges that exist today, for the data centres’ contribution to the green transition, are not the sector’s own inventions. Among other things, I propose that we harmonise standards at EU level to make it easier for data centres and their associated industries to achieve energy efficiency as well as other sustainability goals.

Obviously, we must also address the regulatory barriers that currently prevent data companies from passing on surplus heat to others in a genuine, circular energy cycle, just as we must create incentives and structures that promote heat recovery.

When it comes to looking for innovative ICT solutions to help reduce our energy consumption and cut both costs and CO2 emissions, we need to create fast-track government procedures. It must not limit the data centres’ energy consumption. Otherwise, we risk making it impossible to reap even greater energy savings from those who benefit from the activity of data centres.

We also need to be better at spotting the first movers in the ICT sector who are ahead of the game in their own industry. They do exist; the Danish telecom company Telia has promised to reduce its energy consumption per subscriber by five per cent, while A1 Telecom Austria will increase energy efficiency by 80 per cent in 2030 compared to their 2019 levels.

These companies have understood that consumers - and hopefully soon public tenders - are increasingly climate-friendly. Therefore, the first movers must be acknowledged and lauded, because nothing works better than role models who innovatively take the lead - including by we politicians. 

Read the most recent articles written by Pernille Weiss - Health union for children with rare diseases