Photo-illustration: John Lamb/Corbis
The event focused on achieving sustainability through information and communications technology
By Charles Despins - 15 December 2017
The event focused on achieving sustainability through information and communications technology
By Charles Despins - 15 December 2017
Dr. Earl McCune is an IEEE Fellow and represents the Microwave Theory and Techniques and Solid State Circuits societies in the IEEE Green ICT Initiative. In his work for the Initiative, McCune has been instrumental in articulating proposals for hardware efficiency improvement standards now under development. He is also a member of the Communications, Vehicular Technology, Aerospace Engineering, and Circuits and Systems societies in IEEE. McCune earned his Ph.D. in radio communications from the University of California, Davis, and serves as CTO of Eridan Communications. In this interview Dr. McCune discusses the multi-disciplinary approach the Initiative has taken to greening ICT, among other topics.
Question: Would you introduce yourself to readers and explain how you got involved with the Green ICT Initiative?
McCune: I’ve been an IEEE member for nearly 40 years now and I’ve long been a member of numerous IEEE societies. The Communications Society (ComSoc) took the lead on establishing the Green ICT Initiative and it reached out to other societies for participation. Because my fundamental background is radio frequency (RF) circuitry and related operational efficiencies – and because I’d made enough noise – the presidents of two societies in which I am a member said they knew “just the guy” to contribute to Green ICT. So, within the Initiative, my portfolio includes representing the Microwave Theory and Techniques and Solid State Circuits societies.
Question: How do these distinct disciplines contribute to greening ICT?
McCune: Fundamentally, all efficiency losses happen inside hardware, for many different reasons. Cooperation between disciplines is necessary to address them all. For example, just turning on a transistor and putting out a signal burns power, so we need the involvement of the signal people. But the circuit people can only do as much as the system definitions and the waveforms from the standards allow. For example, in the wireless local area network (WLAN) standards, the present efficiency level for power amplifiers implementing wireless LAN is way below 10 percent, even though the transistors are capable of getting over a 60 percent efficiency level. That lower efficiency ceiling is a direct result of the signal type that the standards committees have specified. The properties of the signal are largely defined by the folks in ComSoc. The physics that the circuitry people must deal with restricts the circuit design options enough that the operating efficiency level is not what the technology is capable of, but is ceilinged at a much lower value.
On the IT side, we need folks who can help ensure that the system is turned on only when it needs to be, thus protocols and power management need to be jointly optimized. All of these people must work together to green ICT. No single society has the full scope of knowledge and skills to address the challenge, so a multi-disciplinary approach combining the expertise of multiple IEEE societies is most effective.
Question: You’ve personally been involved in proposing standards for specific areas of Green ICT. Can you provide an example that would illustrate this effort?
McCune: Two standards proposals have been approved by the standards development board and I’ve been appointed as the working group chair for them. One is IEEE P1923.1™, which addresses the signal design issue by dealing with the hardware design constraints to tackle the efficiency ceiling. We need to figure all this out ahead of time, using consistent methods, so we don’t accidentally bump up into an unacceptable efficiency ceiling while implementing any standard. That’s a process that, technically, people know how to do, but it isn’t being done. So work on this standard could directly solve that problem. How can we standardize the evaluation of proposed signal modulation so that we know ahead of time what the efficiency impact is going to be when we implement them?
Then, through further standards deliberations, one can choose whether there are properties of a given signal that are valuable enough that we should accept a lower efficiency rate, or to instead change the signal type to realize a higher efficiency rate. How that shakes out is up to any individual standards committee working on their particular problem, but we want to provide all working groups with a uniform tool to help implement their choices.
Question: Initially, over the latter half of the 20th century, work in processing and communications primarily focused on performance, rather than energy consumption. This drive for efficiencies really goes to the heart of the Green ICT movement, doesn’t it?
McCune: Yes, thus far we’ve designed for effectiveness, while energy use and efficiency have not been a big part of the deliberations. It struck me, once I began attending Initiative meetings, that the discussions are largely protocol based – when we turn things on and off, how we move things from here to there, logically, and possibly physically. The corollary is: are we using the appropriate amount of energy to get this job done or can we make some improvements in that area?
My experience, on the hardware side of this world, is that if you can improve the hardware to draw energy only when it needs to, and draw the minimum amount of energy it needs to accomplish a task – within the laws of physics governing that task – then all these protocol improvements we make can be leveraged even further.
Question: You’ve described your ongoing work in the standards arena. How are you impacting other areas of the Green ICT effort?
McCune: I’d like to raise awareness that a lot of the energy we’re drawing to make ICT operate right now is based on decisions made by standards people in the past, who didn’t fully understand the impacts that adopted approaches have on hardware design and operation. So I’ve tried to point out specific examples as we go along, and people often have an “aha” moment. We need a different approach and I’m pleased to play a role in hastening the transition to greater awareness of energy use and efficiencies in the ICT context. As a result, the standards proposals that we all work together on have benefitted.
Question: What do you see as your own mid- and long-term aspirations for contributing to the Green ICT Initiative?
McCune: Looking at ICT generally and the Initiative’s stated goal of a 1,000-fold improvement in capacity while drawing no more additional energy than we do today – that’s a pretty tall order. If we keep building things essentially the same way as we are now and expect them to behave differently, it’s not going to happen. To achieve our stated goal, we’ll have to go about building things much differently than we do now. To be successful, we need inputs from all relevant IEEE societies and, outside IEEE, many disparate communities, including policymakers and non-technical people. ICT is a fundamental underpinning to how society operates now. To meet the energy efficiency levels needed to succeed will require efforts by everyone.
In fact, to learn more and participate in this effort, the IEEE Green ICT Initiative will hold its first global summit in Paris, 3 October 2017, an event billed as Greening Through ICT Summit.
As part of a multidisciplinary panel, Dr. Charles Despins, Green ICT Initiative co-Chair, contributed to a 2014 report by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), which had been commissioned by the Government in Canada on "Enabling Sustainability in an Interconnected World". The report was produced with a focus on Canada but most of its observations are still applicable to many countries. The report’s interplay between technologists of different fields as well as sociologists can illustrate how IEEE members and others stakeholders can actively participate in the Green ICT Initiative. This involves contributing to the Green ICT Web Portal, the Green ICT Newsletter, the Sustainability and ICT Magazine, several Green ICT Standards Working Groups to be launched soon and the Greening through ICT* Summit (GtICT) in Paris, May 2017.
Please find enclosed a link to the CCA’s report at:
Information and communication technologies (ICT) are more than just gadgets meant to entertain. They are devices, systems, and platforms that are transforming how people live, work, and communicate with one another. Interconnected ICT opportunities have the potential to expand access to information, generate economic benefits, and improve Canada’s environmental performance. The opportunities for ICT to support sustainability are endless; the challenge lies in identifying and implementing those that have the greatest potential to benefit Canada.
This report comes at the request of Environment Canada, which asked the Council to assemble a multidisciplinary expert panel to assess the existing or potential opportunities for ICT to contribute to a “greener” Canada. The Panel, chaired by David Miller, President and CEO of WWF-Canada, focused on a three-pillared concept of sustainability, which encompasses economic, social, and environmental benefits.
This unique, forward-looking report highlights a range of technological opportunities, applications, and practices from Canada and around the world that could help move Canada toward sustainability. It also identifies some common challenges to realizing these opportunities and explores possible solutions. The Panel’s report provides an evidence-based approach for assessing and understanding the potential of these technologies, and offers new insights about building an interconnected and sustainable future for Canada.
Having considered the evidence, the Panel found that the potential of ICT to drive sustainability is currently not being fully realized in Canada. The Panel determined that there are substantial opportunities to promote and support sustainability through ICT by building on existing Canadian strengths and capacities, in areas like technology adoption and physical and research infrastructure. These opportunities range from small-scale changes, such as household water conservation through applications that inform consumers of their water use, to large-scale changes, such as more reliable and efficient electricity systems when aging utility networks are replaced with smart grid technologies.
The Panel explored ICT-enabled opportunities within six thematic areas, with details and examples in Chapter 4 of the report:
· Environmental monitoring
· Smart interconnected utilities
· Smart interconnected buildings and neighborhoods
· Smart interconnected mobility
· Smart interconnected production
· Healthy people and healthy communities
Beyond these six thematic areas, the Panel also observed that Canada is well positioned to be a global leader in green data centers due to its stable supply of emissions-free electricity, which can power energy-intensive data warehouses, and its cold climate, which can reduce energy needs for cooling equipment. Green data centers are one of many efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of ICT themselves as they enable centralization of processes such as server and network virtualization.
About The Council of Canadian Academies: The CCA is an independent, not-for-profit organization that supports independent, authoritative, and evidence-based expert assessments that inform public policy development in Canada. The CCA’s work encompasses a broad definition of science, incorporating the natural, social and health sciences as well as engineering and the humanities.
Information and communication technology are power hogs. Computers, printers, servers, mobile devices, and telecommunication networks are not energy efficient. Although improvements have been made, it has not been enough of a priority. And that’s a problem, because projections show that by 2020 the global greenhouse gas emissions from ICT will double from today’s 2 percent to 4 percent.
The largest worldwide emitter is by far the production of electricity, with 30 percent of that power typically generated by fossil fuel sources. And demand for electricity is growing, especially for powering networks. More people than ever are using the Internet and other communication networks; annual growth in traffic doubles every two years. By 2020, 21 billion devices will be connected to the Internet, according to the technology research company Gartner. By 2035, the International Energy Agency projects that total demand for electricity will be almost 70 percent higher than today.
Some energy-efficiency gains for ICT have been achieved by using more renewable energy sources and by cooling data centers more efficiently. But that’s not enough to shrink the sector’s overall carbon footprint. What’s needed is a complete rethinking of how to design, build, and use ICT. That’s the mission of the IEEE Green Information and Communication Technology initiative, launched in January 2015 by the IEEE Future Directions Committee, IEEE’s R&D arm.
Green ICT refers to the design and application of information and communication technology to create environmental benefits. Such practices include improved manufacturing processes for its components and systems and disposal systems that also reduce carbon emissions. The Green ICT initiative calls for the application of green metrics and standards when a project’s research and design concepts are first being developed. The initiative works with IEEE societies and other IEEE initiatives dealing with, for example, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, big data, and smart cities.
Because its technical committees have been active in green ICT, the IEEE Communications Society manages the initiative. Collaborators include 16 other IEEE societies as well as representatives from organizations including Bell Labs/Alcatel-Lucent (now part of Nokia), British Telecom, Ericsson Research, the University of Arizona, the University of Leeds, and the University of Melbourne.
“With 40 percent annual traffic growth, if we are able to improve the energy efficiency of today’s networks by a factor of 1,000, then in 20 years they would consume the same amount of energy used today,” says Senior Member Jaafar Elmirghani, who co-chairs the initiative along with Senior Member Charles Despins. “Whatever is designed—whether it’s a communication system, a cloud system, a computer system, or if there’s an electron device, photonic device, or an antenna propagation project—it needs to be done with the environment in mind.”
The initiative raises awareness of how to design green and clean technology by providing forums for the exchange of information. It has done so through existing publications, and it plans this year to launch two new ones dedicated to green ICT.
The group has held information sessions at the IEEE International Conference on Communications, IEEE Globecom, and other gatherings, and is in the process of organizing its own events, workshops, and symposia. It is working to expand the library of green ICT–related standards. And there are tutorials in the works to be given at IEEE conferences and made available on the Green ICT website.
“IEEE knows how to do conferences, how to publish journals, and it has a framework for standards,” Elmirghani says. “We are trying to make use of all these capabilities.”
Improving the environment might be noble, but practical concerns are also at work: Electricity is expensive; reducing its use cuts costs. The National Resources Defense Council, the environmental action group, found that U.S. data centers used 91 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2013 and are on track to consume up to 140 billion kWh per year by 2020—equivalent to electricity bills of nearly US $13 billion annually.
“Companies are very aware of these costs,” Elmirghani notes. “That’s why a lot of the green ICT projects are being led by industry.”
The GreenStar Network project, launched in 2010, seeks to encourage cloud-based ICT services using only renewable energy sources such as the sun, wind, and hydroelectricity. The project, an alliance of Canada’s leading IT companies and universities, is led by École de Technologie Supérieure, in Montreal. A summary of that and other projects are on the Green ICT initiative’s website under the technology spotlight tab.
A side benefit of making data centers, wireless networks, and the core networks of telecommunication service providers more energy efficient, known as “greening ICT,” would be its adoption in other industries as well. That is known as “greening by ICT,” Elmirghani says. Sending e-mail rather than postal mail, and using video conferencing instead of flying to attend a meeting, for example, decreases the carbon emissions from postal trucks and airplanes.
Elmirghani cites the decrease in carbon emissions pinpointed in theSMARTer 2030 report issued in June by the Global e-Sustainability initiative. It found greening by ICT could enable a 20 percent reduction of global CO2emissions by 2030, effectively holding ICT emissions at 2015 levels, and that ICT can reduce global CO2 emissions by an amount equal to approximately 10 times its own carbon footprint. The Global e-Sustainability initiative is a collaboration of major ICT companies and a leading source of information, resources, and best practices for achieving integrated social and environmental sustainability through ICT.
The SMARTer report notes that the overall effect of ICT could generate more than $11 trillion in sustainable benefits annually, such as saving more than 300 trillion liters of water and reducing the need for oil by 25 billion barrels. Greening by ICT can benefit society in other ways as well. The report predicts that by 2030, ICT could potentially give 1.6 billion more people access to medical services via telemedicine and provide half a billion with e-learning tools.
“The Green ICT initiative is an ideal opportunity to lead the thinking on what industry and governments should be doing,” Elmirghani says. “It fulfills IEEE’s mission of fostering technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.”
This article appears in the March 2016 print issue as “Environmentally Friendly Information and Communication Technology.”
The original article appeared in the March 2016 issue of The Institute: http://theinstitute.ieee.org/people/profiles/this-senior-member-is-leading-efforts-to-build-a-more-ecofriendly-telecom-industry
Photo: University of Leeds
The aviation industry produces about 2 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions and faces great pressure to reduce its carbon footprint. Another industry with comparable emissions, however, flies under the radar with little pushback: information and communication technology (ICT).
“People are unaware that the carbon footprint of ICT is so large,” says IEEE Senior Member Jaafar Elmirghani. He is co-chair of the IEEE Green ICT initiative, director of the Institute of Integrated Information Systems, and chair of the communication networks and systems department at the University of Leeds, in England.
What’s more, ICT is growing much faster than the aviation industry. Internet traffic is increasing 30 percent to 40 percent each year, Elmirghani points out, adding, “If this rate continues and nothing is done, ICT in 10 years could consume about 60 percent of the world’s energy resources.”
Elmirghani is leading the initiative’s global efforts to make ICT greener. The initiative is:
Elmirghani has led two projects to reduce the carbon footprint of telecom systems by implementing more energy-efficient hardware, architecture, and protocols as well as using renewable energy. One is the INTERNET (for INTelligent Energy awaRe NETworks) project, which received US $9 million in funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the United Kingdom agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences.
The other is a five-year project that is part of the GreenTouch Consortium, composed of experts from 48 information and communication technology companies, academia, and nongovernmental organizations. It wants to develop ways to improve network energy efficiency.
In June, he received the GreenTouch 1000x Award, one of the most prestigious honors in the green communications industry.
His recommendations for improving energy efficiency include equipping all new telecom hardware with a sleep mode to power down equipment when network traffic is low. Better caching—which stores data closer so future requests can be retrieved faster—is another simple way to minimize power use.
Another recommendation is to improve the protocols for data transfer and optimize the placement of network nodes, or connection points, which would also impact energy use.
“If I want to send information from point A to point B, the best way to minimize power consumption may not always be to take the shortest route but the one that goes through the fewest nodes, which transmit messages toward the final destination,” he says. Sending larger data packets also would help because there would be fewer packets to switch and route.
During the next two years, Elmirghani is working with the IEEE Green ICT group to demonstrate hardware that relies on those techniques. Many of the upgrades would be software-based, making them relatively easy to set up. But it would be up to the telecom industry to put them into practice. Telecom companies replace on average a fifth of their equipment each year, Elmirghani says, giving them opportunities to buy more energy-efficient equipment.
The key drivers for the changes are not likely to be solely economic but will also depend on government mandates for companies to reduce their carbon footprints, he adds.
Besides changes in equipment and architecture, renewable energy sources also could drastically cut networks’ carbon footprints. Elmirghani has addressed the possibility of using solar and wind energy in optical telecom networks, for example. Today’s networks assume that their power sources are constant. Incorporating variable renewable sources raises a number of questions, such as how to deal with power that varies, where to place solar and wind farms, how many to employ, and how to route data to make the best use of renewable energy.
Elmirghani showed that running central network nodes on renewables best minimizes a network’s carbon footprint, and he has developed data-routing algorithms for networks that would use the largest amount of renewable energy. He also has demonstrated that it’s more efficient to build data centers closer to power sources than to customers so as not to waste energy over power lines. Fiber-optic communication networks would, of course, avoid that power loss. Google and other major players already have started to build data centers near hydroelectric dams.
Elmirghani grew up in the northeastern Sudanese city of Port Sudan. He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Sudan’s University of Khartoum in 1989. He later earned a Ph.D. in 1994 from the University of Huddersfield, in England, for work on optical receiver design, and he earned a doctor of science degree in 2014 in communication networks and systems from the University of Leeds.
In 2000, he joined Swansea University, in Wales, as a professor of electrical engineering. He went on to found and direct the university’s Institute of Advanced Telecommunications, developing cutting-edge concepts in optical wireless systems that led to significant data rate increases. With optical networks exploding in size and energy use, he recognized the importance of green ICT.
Now as co-chair of the Green ICT initiative, he has been helping to organize symposia, workshops, and conferences, including the IEEE OnlineGreenComm virtual conference on green communications held in November. He also is working to launch two publications—IEEE Transactions on Green ICT and IEEE Green ICT Magazine—this year and next.
Elmirghani says his main goal is to make all IEEE societies aware of the importance of green ICT so they’ll keep environmentally friendly metrics in mind when designing systems and products: “I hope to see ICT systems so well designed that we no longer have to worry about their carbon footprint.”
This article appears in the March 2016 print issue as “Building a More Eco-friendly Telecom Industry.”