Tech CEOs push for green computing

IT has been criticized for its energy usage, especially in data centers

WASHINGTON -- IT vendors can play a major role in reducing the world's energy consumption, but information about the benefits of technology has been lacking in an ongoing environmental debate here, three technology CEOs said today.

While IT consumption of energy in the U.S. has grown in the past decade, technology also displaces more than its share of energy-consuming activities in other sectors, members of the Technology CEO Council said. The advocacy group highlighted a report, released today, said that every kilowatt-hour of energy used by IT replaces 10 kWh of energy that would have been used elsewhere.

IT currently uses about 6% of U.S. electricity, up from 2% to 3% in 2000, said John "Skip" Laitner, co-author of the report and director of economic policy analysis at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). But through a wide variety of IT products, including tech that enables videoconferencing, telecommuting and e-mail, results in a net decrease in energy consumption, he said.

Instead of flying to a conference in Sweden recently, Laitner attended by videoconference, he said. And in preparing the ACEEE's report, Laitner received thousands of pages of documents by e-mail or downloads, instead of having them delivered.

Few studies have explored the energy efficiencies created by IT, he added. "We have to look at what that's displacing," he said.

Users of computers and other IT products should expect more energy savings in the future, said Dell Inc. CEO Michael Dell. He joined Mike Splinter, president and CEO of Applied Materials Inc., and Joseph Tucci, chairman, president and CEO of EMC Corp., at a press briefing focused on green technologies.

"As an industry, we have begun to take up the [environmental] issue in a serious way," Dell said. "It's an issue that customers care about."

The IT industry has come under criticism for its energy use, particularly at large data centers. In January 2007, Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) introduced a bill that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to analyze and report to Congress about the growth and energy consumption of computer data centers by the federal government and private companies.

Congress needs to "more fully understand the impact that the growing number of computers in use throughout the country has on energy consumption," Allard said then.

The Technology CEO Council isn't concerned about congressional mandates, because the IT industry is already taking steps to reduce its energy consumption, said Bruce Mehlman, the group's executive director.

But the U.S. government can have a huge effect on energy consumption by adopting more green technologies, Splinter said. "The government is the largest user of energy in our country," he said.

In addition to the ACEEE report, the council released its own report, called "A Smarter Shade of Green" (download PDF). The report lays out the group's environmental policy principles, including the following:

  • The president should select a federal agency as a center for energy efficiency excellence, a model for other agencies going green.
  • The government should invest more in green research.
  • Governments across the world should reduce tariffs on green technologies.
  • The U.S. government should explore tax incentives for deploying energy-saving technologies.
  • Companies shouldn't wait for government mandates or incentives, but should adopt energy-efficient strategies on their own.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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