The ICT sector – driving energy and carbon reduction


By Richard Tarboton, BT Energy and Carbon Unit

The ICT sector – driving energy and carbon reductionBT takes energy consumption and carbon reduction very seriously.

Of course we do given our commitment to sustainability and being a responsible business.

However, BT is also a significant consumer of electricity in the UK. As a company we are among the top ten largest consumers, responsible for using around 0.7 per cent of the country's electricity production.

That's why, even though we've successfully reduced our UK carbon footprint by 58 per cent since 1996, we have set ourselves some very aggressive energy reduction and carbon cutting targets for the coming years.

For example, we plan to reduce our carbon footprint by 80 per cent between 1996 and 2016, and are aiming to lower our global carbon intensity by 80 per cent by 2020.

We are also working to reduce our global energy consumption by three per cent this year.

This last target is one I would describe as interesting, if not fairly ambitious. Especially when you consider that BT is in the middle of a growth period as we roll out our UK fibre access and 21st century networks and continue to build new data centres to serve our customers.

Customer demand

There's no getting away from the fact that the increase in demand for services such as super-fast broadband, internet TV and so on, is driving ICT energy consumption across the globe. And a research project that BT has been working with global management consultant firm McKinsey & Co. - Smart 2020 – acknowledges this trend.

However, Smart 2020 also reports that the total amount of energy and carbon that other industries will be able to reduce as a result of ICT will be a lot greater than the sum of ICT's direct footprint.

Currently, the world's entire footprint stands at 40 gigatonnes of CO2 per annum, of which ICT generates about 0.5 gigatonnes.

By 2020 the forecast is for a global footprint to reach around 52 gigatonnes per annum – with the ICT sector accounting for 1.4 gigatonnes.

But, reductions brought about by the use of ICT will, it is predicted, help to reduce the overall footprint by an estimated 7.8 gigatonnes per annum. Critically, this is lot more than what the ICT sector actually consumes. Five times more in fact.

Policy adoption

Achieving such a substantial saving like this could be considered a big responsibility for the ICT sector and for all the operators working within it including BT. Such reductions made through ICT will only come about when businesses and organisations from all sectors successfully adopt of policies, practices and behaviours that enable them to become more energy efficient, use energy from more renewable sources and utilise lower carbon-based energy.

At BT we thrive on leading by example. For this reason we have established an Energy and Carbon Unit which is charged with driving down energy consumption and carbon emissions across the group.

One of the most important components of the company's energy reduction strategy is the use of ICT to control the use of energy across the company. In particular we are maintaining a strong focus on smart metering as a tool to monitor and manage heating, lighting and cooling systems in 98 per cent of BT's 6,000 buildings.

Capital endeavour

This is all part of a significant investment programme being undertaken to make our company more energy efficient. We are installing smart building control systems, new air conditioning systems, and variable speed drive fans that optimise how much cooling is provided in each of our 6000 buildings, helping to reduce our overall energy use.

We are also using our skills, experience and ICT know-how to help other businesses reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprints – businesses from a wide range of sectors.

BT, like the ICT sector as a whole, has the potential to make a serious contribution to energy and carbon reduction. The use of ICT to monitor and optimise energy consumption is critical to us as we strive to reach our targets.