What will computers be like in 2020, or even 2050? Given the rapid pace of innovation, predicting the future of technology is notoriously difficult, but one thing we can be sure of is that it will use less energy. Thanks to rising concern about climate change there has been an astonishing level of interest over the last year or so in investigating ways to develop computers, displays, printers, data centres and other technology which use less energy. And the pace of innovation will only increase.
I’ve been busy in the last few months as a co-author on a major new report for JISC. The “Low Carbon Computing” report, published today, looks at how ICT can be made more energy efficient. The report takes as it premise the UK’s Climate Change Act and maps a future for computing which is framed by the CCA’s targets, processes and frameworks. By 2020 the public sector will be expected to have reduced its carbon levels to 30% less than it used in 1990. It is a ‘big ask’ and ICT will have a major role to play.
How to achieve these kinds of cuts? The sociologist, Anthony Giddens, is quoted in the report as saying we have to “Season policy with a dash of utopian thinking”. In this spirit the report covers a very wide range of emerging ideas and technologies varying from simple behaviour changes (switch off your PC when you’re not using it, for god’s sake!) to radical suggestions such as switching data centre equipment to run on DC power alone (more efficient to run from renewable sources). Along the way the report takes in a wide variety of interesting new ideas such as thermal energy harvesting, hydrogen fuel cells and nano data centres. We’ve deliberately looked at a long time period and the report presents a first attempt at a Low Carbon ICT roadmap for up to 2020.
The full report’s a bit of a beast at nigh on 80 pages, but there is a 5-page executive summary for the lightweights among you.