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Low Carbon ICT Conference

Yesterday I attended the Low Carbon ICT Conference organised by Oxford University, with funding from JISC. This was a good an useful day, with speakers covering a range of topics, and a small number of exhibits. Some of the speakers were familiar - Zafar Chaudry gave his excellent talk on the benefits of virtualisation in one of our webinars, while Liam Newcombe will be speaking in our next-but-one webinar on May 7th. Others were new to me.

The speakers' talks covered office ITC equipment, virtualisation, data centres, PC manufacturing, sustainability entrepreneurship and enterprise planning. I was more at home with the techie end of things, but this is not a problem that can be tackled by technology alone so it was good to see the broad participation of this conference.

I was aware of most of the technical issues, although I was surprised at how much energy is used by desktop PCs and peripherals (see below). I was also interested to hear Juergen Heidegger recommend the use of thin clients, as our case study from Merrill Lynch suggests that the saving here is less than might be expected. Juergen has sent me a paper that backs up his claim, which I look forward to reading.

Nick Eyre and Daniel Curtis are from Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute. They mainly addressed the question of emissions from office PCs and related equipment, rather than data centres. Nick set the context by reminding us that the government is aiming for a cut in greenhouse gas emissions of 25-30% by 2020, while current non-domestic ITC equipment uses 17,000 GWh/yr in the UK. This is 7% of non-domestic electricity consumption and rising. For contrast, the power consumption of servers and data centres are estimated at 5,000 GWh/yr. So even simple schemes such as configuring PCs to power down when not in use can save significant sums; Daniel produced figures that estimated the university could save £250,000 and 1,445 tonnes CO2 each year.

Liam Newcombe expanded on the new regulations that large organisations will face, mentioning UK cap-and-trade and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. He also pointed out that being "green" is already an important aspect of brand value. Universities are included in this - People and Planet have produced a league table to help applicants choose their preferred place of study. Liam went on to present the BCS's work on data centre modelling, as introduced in our October 2007 webinar by Zahl Limbuwala.

Juergen Heidegger of Fujitsu Siemens and Peter Waggett of IBM told the conference about their companies' internal work to reduce energy consumption. Juergen focussed on Fujitsu Siemens' production of PCs with low energy usage and which can be largely recycled at the end of their lifespan. Peter gave a broader presentation of areas where IBM is looking to use less power.

A contrast from all this tech talk was provided by Martin Chilcott of Meltwater Ventures. Martin is an entrepreneur and marketeer who sees sustainability as the "fourth revolution" (following the agrarian, industrial and information revolutions"), and hence sees the chance for people with the right ideas to make very successful businesses.

The JISC project that funded this conference aims to improve energy efficiency of IT use across Oxford University and disseminate the results so that other universities and businesses can learn from the experience. Personally, I think this is only one part of the puzzle; the HE funding agencies need to take the whole "green IT" issue on board when buying equipment and I see no sign that they have done this.

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