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Powering the internet

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The UK is embracing the digital revolution like never before but could this jeopardise efforts to keep carbon emissions in check, writes Guy Petheram.

In last week’s budget, George Osborne announced funding for the technology industry, and in particular digital research. This follows the announcement last month by the 5G Research Centre at Surrey University that they had managed to achieve a mobile internet speed of 1-terabit. The number is many thousand times faster than the current average 4G speed in the UK of 15-megabit.

There’s a long way to go before these mobile speeds become an everyday reality but the research is moving fast. Samsung announced only in October 2014 that they had clocked, what now appears a somewhat paltry, 7.5-gigabit.

For the government and investors that stumped up the £40 million to set up the 5G Research Centre in 2012, the direction of travel is clear. Wireless communication is a big part of the economic future, and smart cities and the internet of things are on the threshold of reality.

The demand for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets shows no sign of abating.  In 2013 their number exceeded the population of the planet for the first time, at around 7 billion. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be between 50 and 100 billion mobile devices.

Even without 5G, global mobile data (3G and 4G) grew by 69% in 2014 and is predicted to grow 10-fold by 2019. With 5G potentially becoming available by 2025, the exponential growth of mobile data will continue.

What does this mean for the energy consumption and the carbon emissions of an industry already under pressure to clean up its act?

To date environmental focus has been on the huge data centres that house the growing number of internet servers. A New York Times report in 2012 exposed the dirty secret of what is usually perceived to be a clean digital industry. They estimated that data centres consume the electricity equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power stations.

However, it is estimated that the digital economy uses around 10% of the world’s electricity, with data centres responsible for only around one tenth of that. The rest is accounted for by the end user devices and the networks that link them back to the data centres.

An analysis by the Centre for Energy Efficient Telecommunications (CEET) in 2013 forecast that between 2012 and 2015 energy consumption of the wireless cloud would rise by 400%. That would represent an increase in carbon footprint from 6 million tonnes to 30 million tonnes.

Those figures also showed mobile internet data was the single biggest contributor. This may have something to do with the fact that compared to other forms of wireless communication, such as public or private WiFi, the mobile internet is power hungry. According to one recent analysis, it uses as much as 10 times more energy to download the same amount of data.

The potential for 5G technology to add significantly to global energy consumption, and therefore CO2 emissions, seems clear. The increasing speed of 4G technology is already predicted to lead to a huge increase in mobile video thereby massively increasingly the amount of mobile data traffic.

There are considerable efforts underway to improve efficiency in the digital industry. Companies such a Facebook and Google are increasingly turning to renewable energy to power their data centres and technological advances will undoubtedly mean more low energy devices in the future. Smartphones, for instance, currently waste up to 70% of energy consumed as heat.

The internet of things, in part enabled by faster mobile internet, is already making savings for businesses by making their energy use more efficient. Ultimately this hyper connected world could improve efficiency in a huge number of ways, from controlling our thermostats to reducing the time, and therefore petrol, it takes a driver to find a parking space.

However, in a statement about the potential benefit of the internet of things the International Energy Agency said, “Alongside all the benefits there is also potentially a very steep energy cost to pay. To ensure that the step forward does not equate to the need to install a lot of new electricity generation plants, it is not enough to reduce the devices’ power demand. Instead, new ways of powering these devices and things need to be explored.”

The big question therefore is whether efficiency improvements and the uptake of renewables will keep up with the accelerating growth in data communication, and its energy demands.

Global carbon emissions remained unchanged in 2014 from the previous year, giving hope that the link between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions may have decoupled. The challenge is for the digital industry to do the same.

Photo: Phil Roeder via Flicker

Further reading:

Futurewealth survey: millionaires increasingly using digital tools to manage wealth

General election: public debate to explore how the internet affects voting

Apple, Facebook and Google named as top green internet leaders

Greenpeace darkens site for internet censorship

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Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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