How IT can help solve the global energy puzzle

Jim Millen
By , - Enabling DigitalEnergy & Utilities

In the next 25 years, global energy demand is set to increase by 37 per cent. Combine this with our out-dated infrastructure and an over-reliance on fossil fuels, and it’s clear the human race faces an unprecedented challenge.

Everyday, our use of energy is taken for granted. It supports every aspect of our lives, and as demand grows, traditional supplies grow scarcer.

We need a revolution in the creation, distribution and usage of energy, or we face an incredibly bleak future. Solving this puzzle could well take several generations.

Key to this is moving from fossil fuels to renewable sources. The growing pile of evidence for global warming underlines why our continued use of traditional fuels could spell disaster in the long run.

Technology is very much part of the problem but it’s also the solution, and at Fujitsu we believe IT must be a leader in energy change.

Reducing the energy footprint of IT

Firstly, IT is a major consumer of energy and the industry has a responsibility to reduce how much power its devices use.

With the growing shift towards the use of ‘IT as a service’, we must also aim to reduce energy consumption per unit of work.

IT equipment has been estimated to use 10% of the world’s electricity generation capacity. If all of that were to be powered by green, carbon neutral energy, it would certainly make a dent in our global carbon footprint.

Smart technology enabling energy efficiency

Secondly, IT is an enabler of energy efficiency in other sectors, especially in industrial production, buildings and transport. We need to make sure the net effect of IT usage here is positive – and trending upwards.

Thirdly, IT has the capability to stabilise the power grid through intelligent control. Think how consumers are beginning to use smart metres and intelligent controls like Nest in the home. On an industrial scale this will increase the overall efficiency of the power-generating infrastructure, measurable in terms of CAPEX for a given level of required total supply.

This aspect is also critical for the shift from old large nuclear and coal-powered sources to renewables, since most renewable sources fluctuate. With that in mind, IT can enable the transition to clean energy in a managed, cost efficient way.

What can the IT industry do?

There’s no doubt the industry’s reputation is enhanced by paying attention to energy usage.

Facebook’s server farm, just south of the Arctic Circle in Sweden, is a great example of this. The facility takes advantage of the cool climate and abundant nearby hydroelectric power, rather than power-hungry air conditioning. It shows that even one of the world’s busiest businesses can also make smart environmental decisions.

The Californian data centres of Equinix are to be 100% powered by solar – all 105 megawatts. Impressive in itself, considering the servers need to run 24/7 and you only get sun during half of that time.

An astonishing 90% of the energy that powers our IT infrastructure ends up as heat – a huge waste. But there is also innovative ways of cutting this.

For instance, the body heat of commuters at Stockholm’s Central Station is now being used to heat a nearby office building. Fujitsu uses a similar strategy to funnel waste heat from our London North data centre to our office campus.

But technology can be used to tackle waste further. With a smarter environment containing networked, embedded devices, we will be able to direct heat and light where they are needed most.

Making the grid more intelligent

The electricity infrastructure is a potent symbol of industrial civilisation. Traditional power stations are massive constructions, designed to generate power around the clock for large populations. But this broad approach is no longer sustainable.

A flexible, smart grid is ultimately only as valuable as its ability to morph to changing requirements. The growing population of smart devices demands advanced analytics to ensure networks deliver energy when and where it is needed.

Complex algorithms can take factors like weather, consumption needs, and renewable reserves to manage the grid more effectively.

Soon it will be possible for the grid to manage demand actively – such as delaying domestic washing machine programmes to low-demand periods. It also means ‘high-draw’ equipment such as air conditioners and freezers can also be controlled more intelligently.

The world’s appetite for energy is only going to continue to grow. If businesses, governments and citizens work together, we can ensure subsequent generations enjoy the prosperity we now take for granted.

The future of energy is in an intelligent mix of supplies, distribution mechanisms and informed choices over usage. Technology is the key enabler.

The devices and services now appearing in the market will become part of a smarter energy landscape that serves with efficiency and environmental responsibility.

This post is based on a white paper written by Fujitsu Distinguished Engineer Simon McKenna. Find out more about Megatrends – the big trends in society Fujitsu believe technology can help to address – on our website.

Jim Millen

Jim Millen

Digital Content Editor at Fujitsu
I'm the editor for the Fujitsu UK & Ireland blog, and love to write about the exciting work Fujitsu do in digital & technology innovation.

Any feedback on the blog or our other social channels? Please do connect and let me know!
Jim Millen

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