Nº 7 2012 > ICT and climate change
How can ICT contribute to our planet and societys future?
Head of Corporate Environmental Strategy Unit, Fujitsu Limited
Mr Takeno is responsible for directing and implementing the Fujitsu Group’s environmental strategy, along with ensuring that the Group’s business is environmentally sustainable.
Forty years have passed since the Club of Rome sounded an alarm about population growth and environmental pollution in its report “The Limits to Growth”. Meanwhile, information and communication technologies (ICT) have been evolving through continuous innovation, and people have started to acknowledge the enabling role of these technologies in overcoming environmental problems. In the past, ICT contributed to society mainly by improving efficiency in the use of resources and energy. Today, the enabling force of ICT goes beyond efficiency to encompass the vast processing power of the technologies themselves.
Fujitsu, a leading Japanese ICT company with reported consolidated revenues of USD 54 billion (4.5 trillion yen) for the fiscal year that ended on 31 March 2012, is now applying these technologies in many innovative ways to help create a more sustainable planet. Fujitsu offers a full range of technology products, solutions and services, and has over 170 000 staff supporting customers in more than 100 countries. Working with our customers, we use our experience and the strengths of ICT to help shape the future of society.
A sustainability paradigm
Today, we face significant global challenges. The effects of climate change and the resource depletion that our population explosion has triggered are just some of the factors indicating that the sustainability of our planet is increasingly in doubt. Also, disasters such as last year’s Great East Japan Earthquake and the flooding in Thailand have taught us that safety and security are not something to be taken for granted. Creating a resilient society is therefore an important aspect of sustainable development.
I believe the time has come for a new paradigm, to move away from traditional development models where economic profit is the priority, towards a more sustainable economic model which can generate prosperity while at the same time maintaining the natural ecosystems.
It is acknowledged that ICT could deliver an enormous positive environmental impact through the more efficient use of resources and energy, increasing the sustainability of consumption and production, making transport more efficient and assessing the environmental consequences of different activities. ICT are already contributing to minimizing the environmental impact of the office, the factory and the supply chain.
With the colossal computing power and high-speed networks that ICT now make available to us, the potential is almost unlimited. How can ICT deliver a more sustainable economy?
Supercomputer support for innovative research
Increasing energy efficiency is impressive, but it barely hints at the full potential power of ICT. I believe that computing power can generate the major innovations needed for a sustainable future. We already see this emerging; for example, the high processing speeds of the supercomputer — the K computer ranked first for two consecutive reporting periods in the TOP500 ranking 2011 — can support the analyses and choices that will create innovations based on the knowledge we already possess combined with cutting-edge technologies. New materials, new energy sources, new products and new ways of creating a more resilient society will be developed.
The supercomputer allows Tohoku University’s research team to simulate a tsunami with high precision in three dimensions (3D). Previously, tsunami simulation was limited to calculating heights and arrival times only at coastal areas, and it was not possible to predict tsunami damage from floods in populated urban areas and further inland. Now, the K computer enables realistic 3D images to be created of a tsunami’s impact on dikes bordering not only coastal areas, but also buildings in cities. This will improve disaster preparedness and enable high-level planning of precautionary measures. It will also help in the recovery and revitalization of areas hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Another example is a world-class high-performance computing (HPC) network created by the Welsh government and universities in Wales. HPC Wales will put Fujitsu’s high-performance computing to work on a variety of academic, scientific and commercial projects. The huge computing power will open the door to low-carbon innovation by enabling such activities as the modelling of weather patterns and climate change, the development of climate-resistant crops and research into efficient energy development and renewables. It will also facilitate cutting-edge research, for example by enabling the development and manufacturing of new materials without the need to make prototypes. This has the potential to give business a real competitive edge.
Energy saving in the ICT sector
We should not forget the impact of the ICT sector itself on the environment. In fact, ICT are responsible for about 2 per cent of global CO2 emissions. One of the areas in which ICT emissions are increasing the fastest is data centres. Because of the growth in the number and capacities of data centres, their impact on the climate could increase more than fivefold between 2002 and 2020, according to some estimates.
A top priority in addressing this significant source of CO2 emissions is to reduce the energy consumption of air conditioning systems in data centres. Energy expended on air conditioning in data centres accounts for approximately 40 per cent of the total energy consumed by these centres.
Fujitsu has recently developed a system that analyses temperature distribution in order to reduce this energy consumption. The system consists of optical fibre-based multipoint temperature sensing technology, including an original fine-signal processing algorithm. This new system plays an important role in optimizing air conditioning by accurately visualizing the real-time temperature distribution and identifying overcooled or insufficiently cooled spots.
By setting targets for temperature and for cooling air flow for example, Fujitsu’s system can reduce the energy consumed by air conditioning in data centres by up to 40 per cent, while saving more than 90 per cent of the time needed for optimization work, as compared with traditional methods.
Although the ICT industry has made major advances in recent years in reducing its impact on the planet, we need to go much further in helping to create a more sustainable and secure society. This is something that we can do.
At Fujitsu, we firmly believe that one of the potentially most effective and exciting ways to protect our environment is to apply the massive computing power now available to us. Indeed, we are already beginning to see this computing power being used in innovative ways to solve a wide range of environmental problems.