Posts Tagged ‘green’

Low Carbon Computing

November 24, 2009

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.

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Oxford dining

March 21, 2008

My brief sojourn to the dreaming spires was completed with a day at the Towards Low Carbon ICT conference. A series of academic and business speakers explored issues around developing and procuring ICT equipment that saves energy and uses less of the world’s resources in its manufacture. All this will be useful as I gear myself up to begin editing JISC’s forthcoming report on greening ICT.

In the true spirit of the occasion, the conference lunch was officially described as consisting of “fair trade, organic, local produce and, where possible, open source, food.” I wasn’t quite sure which parts of the lunch were open source – I suppose it must have been the dishes made to recipes that have fallen out of copyright – but it seemed to go down well with the attendees.

This eco-lunch was extremely tasty, but I have to confess was trumped by a business lunch I had had earlier in the week at Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie Blanc: the tarte citron was sublime. However, my Bed and Breakfast establishment won first prize for the most unusual meal of the week – they had the following on offer for breakfast:

Marmalade Omelette.

The T-Generation: can techno-cathedral builders save the planet?

February 21, 2008

Forget the Google generation of today’s teenage social networkers and YouTubers – the future really belongs to the cathedral builders of the recently born Transition Generation. According to Professor James Martin, a futurologist from the University of Oxford, the planet’s future rests on their young shoulders.

Speaking at the British Computer Society’s annual Turing lecture on Tuesday evening, Martin outlined his view of the large-scale problems facing the world in the 21st century and the potential technological solutions. A jammed pack audience heard how the T-Generation will have to be prepared to undertake a series of enormous social, economic and technological changes in order to develop a society which practices what Martin calls ‘eco-affluence’ i.e. one in which people enjoy a good standard of living and a worthwhile life without damaging the environment. This will involve them in enormous projects, many of which, like the church builders of the medieval age, will often take more than one person’s lifetime. They will be digital and eco-technological cathedral builders.

The talk was preceded by the first showing of a film that Martin is the process of making called ‘The Meaning of the 21st Century’. This proved to be a devastating, and deeply green, analysis of the world’s problems along the lines of Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth’. The film includes a chilling interview with James Lovelock, author of the Gaia theory of earth ecology, who argues that the rapidly melting arctic ice shows we have reached the “point of no return” with regard to climate change. Lovelock calculates that, as far as food production is concerned, the carrying capacity of the planet will be reduced to around 500 million humans by end of the century. There are currently more than 6 billion of us.

What are the solutions? This is where I thought things started to go a little awry. There was a long list of what are rapidly becoming the usual suspects: light-weight hydrogen powered cars, solar and wind energy, hydroponics, fusion power, synthetic biology, genetically engineered crops and astonishing new developments in computer technology and data bandwidth.

Although many of these solutions are interesting and promising I thought there was something missing in his analysis. Old fashioned and deeply human things like personal greed, the brittleness of economic systems, general ignorance, vested interests and political weakness are all getting in the way.

And there in lies the true problem. We may have the scientific knowledge and the technology to move to a society based on eco-affluence, but are we capable of making the human investment? After seeing his film one is left deeply wishing the T-Gen all the luck in the world.