Carbon Emitted vs. Carbon Saved by ICT – What We Know, What We Believe, and Where We Fail

Monday, April 10, 2017 11:00:00 AM - Monday, April 10, 2017 12:00:00 PM
Rm. 1210, Bahen Centre, 40 St. George Street
Invited Research Seminar

VLAD COROAMA, ETH Zurich

ABSTRACT: This talk discusses the interplay between ICT (i.e., Information and Communication Technology) and environmental sustainability. The two main factors relevant in this relationship are (A) the study of ICT’s own environmental footprint, and (B) the analysis of its carbon abatement potential in other sectors. Concerning (A), I present current assessments for ICT’s energy consumption i) in data centers, ii) along the Internet, and iii) of end-user devices, and address differences between use-phase perspective and full life-cycle assessment. I further present the uncertainties resulting from the emergence of cloud computing, IPTV, and the Internet of Things. Regarding (B), despite its ability to substitute carbon-intensive activities or to make them more efficient, ICT’s abatement potential is much less understood. Estimates rest on questionable methods and often result in overstatements not proven in practice. Starting from a review of common methodological flaws, I present initial guidelines towards more robust estimates. I conclude by briefly addressing ICT’s environmental impact beyond energy and carbon.

BRIEF BIO: Vlad Coroama is a senior researcher and lecturer at the ETH Zurich, Switzerland. He received a Master’s degree in computer science from the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, in 2000, and a PhD from the ETH Zurich, Switzerland, in 2008. Before re-joining the ETH Zurich in early 2017, Vlad was a postdoc and researcher with the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the Technology and Society Lab of the Swiss Federal Labs for Material Science (Empa), the Polytechnic Institute in Lisbon, Portugal, and the CESC Centre for Sustainable Communications at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm, Sweden. For more than 15 years, Vlad is interested in the interplay of computing and society. Already during his PhD, he explored the societal and economic consequences of ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence. Today, his main focus lies on the environmental dimension of sustainability. Due to the magnitude of climate change and the urgency of mitigation measures, he is particularly interested in whether Information and Communication Technologies can help reduce humankind’s energy and carbon footprints, and which are the most promising technologies and policies in that respect. Vlad strongly believes that the public discourse should focus mainly on the solutions that scale – or, as the late David MacKay succinctly put it, “every BIG helps”.