ICT key to distinguishing ‘smart green’ from dead ducks, says analyst

2nd October 2009 By: Margie Inggs - Creamer Media Correspondent

Information and communication technology (ICT) accounts for an estimated 2,5% of global warming and the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of the ICT industry alone exceed the carbon output of the entire aviation industry, GreenGov CEO Elizabeth Muller said at the GovTech conference, in Durban, late last month.

GreenGov is a division of Muller & Associates and aims to provide high-quality scientific expertise on energy and the environment, tailored specially for the needs of government.

“Our team has experience working with governments in high tech in over 30 coun- tries around the world,” she said. “Import- antly, we understand the particulars of implementing sustainable change in government.”

Muller said that, between 1850 and 1957, there was no evidence of warming caused by humans. “However, between 1957 and 2007, the average world temperature [rose] by 0,8 ºF”.

The annual UK Stern Report on the economics of climate change suggested that 2% of global gross product should be invested in preventing, and adapting to, climate change.

However, Muller said that, currently, much of the investment was being used to subsidise technologies that would never be sustainable.

“Some, however, is being used to encourage new developments in promising technologies and to help bring the price down to make it competitive.

“Green can be profitable, and must be in order to be successfully implemented,” she said.

Fostering green innovation was a priority in many countries and what as needed was more investment in ‘smart green’.

“ICT can help make the distinction between smart green investments and those that have no future,” she said.

“ICT also has the potential to transform government energy policy.”

She said the role of CIOs and ICT leaders was to help guide this transformation.

“It’s not just about reducing the carbon footprint for ICT, though this is also important. But the real breakthrough for green IT will be in helping build consensus among stakeholders and bringing clarity and transparency to green projects.”

There are many pitfalls, however. In a case study in a least-developed country, a development bank grant for $100-million was earmarked for renewable energy. A renewable-energy strategy was developed but it was not tailored for the country and included technologies that were not appro- priate for a least-developed country and did not take advantage of the country’s key strengths, like biomass.

CIOs had a vital role to plan, not just in reducing the carbon footprint of ICT in an organisation, but, more importantly, to help guide the green transformation within the organisation, Muller said.

“This must be done in a way that is practical, builds on the core strengths of the organisation and can be implemented sustainably.”

Giving practical advice for South Africa, she said investments in nuclear and wind were both good but that small-scale nuclear projects had lower upfront costs.

“You could also consider building coal plants that are high efficiency, sequestra- tion ready. While they will cost more now, they will allow greater flexibility for future agreements,” she said.

She recommended using natural gas which, she said, was expected to be cheap for the foreseeable future, even as an import, and was twice as clean as coal.