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Green IT Is Key to an Energy-Efficient Future: Report

By investing in key information technologies -- from gadgets to smart grids -- in the next 20 years, the United States can save $1.3 trillion in electricity costs and cut greenhouse gases by 20 percent, according to a report released today.

Whether it's teleworking enabled by broadband internet or the spread of video conferencing technologies that reduce business travel, information technologies (IT) are responsible for significantly reducing the amount of energy used in the United States in the last 20 years, according to a report released today by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

The report "Semiconductor Technologies: The Potential to Revolutionize U.S. Energy Productivity," is authored by "Semiconductor Technologies: The Potential to Revolutionize U.S. Energy Productivity," looks at how the energy intensity of the U.S. economy -- the amount of energy needed to produce $1 of GDP -- has steadily shrunk due to technological innovations.

The savings resulting from IT have already made a huge impact: Although the U.S. economy has grown by over 60 percent in 20 years, energy demand has climbed only 20 percent during that time. And the report's authors -- Skip Laitner, Chris Poland Knight, Vanessa L. McKinney and Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez -- predict even bigger gains from existing and near-future innovations.

"By our calculation here, the cumulative electricity bill savings enabled by semiconductors might exceed $1.3 trillion through 2030," the report states. "Perhaps not surprising, a more productive economy might also support some 935,000 more jobs while substantially reducing environmental impacts -- notably a reduction in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions that would exceed 700 million metric tons, also by 2030."

The key to achieving these goals in investment in green technologies: The report cites a need for about $7.1 billion of investments in 2010, growing to as much as $28.7 billion a year by 2030, averaging out to about $22.5 billion per year in the next 20 years.

But those investments will pay significant dividends: the authors project national energy savings to be worth about $1.3 trillion in the same timeframe, and eliminate the need for 296 power plants, leading to an overall 20 percent cut in greenhouse gas emission from the electric utility industry.

Among the areas that have already benefited from IT advances -- but which will also see leaps and bounds in efficiency improvements in coming years -- are data centers, which can cut energy use significantly through the use of a combination of highly energy efficient transformers and power supplies, server virtualization and smart cooling strategies.

It's not just data centers that are benefiting from efficient power supplies: gadgets of all types, from personal computers to cell phones, use an estimated $17 billion in electricity every year. While power supplies are currently only 40 percent efficient (wasting as much as 60 percent of the electricity they draw), next generation power sources can be 90+ percent efficient, and can even charge wirelessly, reducing materials use and manufacturing costs. (For more on energy efficient power supplies, see our recent articles "Taking the Green, Universal Charger to the Next Level" and "Pulling the Plug on Phantom Power.")

In the telecom industry, innovations from e-commerce and e-billing to telecommuting and videoconferencing are driving big changes: the roughly 4 million U.S. telecommuters in 2006 alone saved 840 million gallons of gasoline, and a report from 2005 finds that about 53 million U.S. workers could reasonably do their job at home.

Other areas that see benefits from energy efficiency are motors (industrial motors and those in appliances alike), lighting systems, sensors and controllers, renewable energy technologies, transportation systems, and the smart grid.

The full report, "Semiconductor Technologies: The Potential to Revolutionize U.S. Energy Productivity," is available for free download from ACEEE.

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