At NJ Green Summit, ICT Touted as Key to Greener Tomorrow

Better integration of information communication technologies could boost energy efficiency, cut greenhouse gas

The state needs to better integrate information communication technologies (ICT) into the power grid and the transportation and construction sectors — steps that will help drive down energy consumption and curb greenhouse gas emissions.

At least that was the sentiment widely expressed yesterday at a New Jersey Green Summit at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, a session its organizers hope will lead to greater visibility and use of green technologies.

The rationale behind building a more sustainable state makes both environmental and economic sense, according to Markus Hofmann, head of Bell Labs Research, a division of Alcatel-Lucent, one of the sponsors of the event. That goal mirrors efforts by the state to develop a robust green economy, an effort that could create thousands of well-paying jobs.

To do so, Hofmann and others said, would take a collaborative effort among businesses, academia, and policymakers. “No single organization can do it alone, he said.

Making New Jersey more sustainable could also cut energy use and significantly reduce the emissions contributing to global climate change, others noted. The potential benefits would be spread among a variety of sectors: agriculture, building, manufacturing, power generation, transportation, and consumer services.

A year ago, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSi) issued a report saying that better use of information and communication technologies could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 16.5 percent by 2020, the equivalent of saving 21 billion barrels of oil, said Tom Okrasinski, senior manager of environmental engineering at Bell Labs.

“We are on a great cusp of going forward in the potential of ICT driving down greenhouse gas emissions,’’ Okrasinski predicted.

Big gains are already being achieved in some areas, such as data control centers, a huge energy consumer that is growing bigger every day, according to participants.
The improvements are often achieved by simple changes, such as slowing down the motors used to control equipment in the center or deploying more complex software, which closely monitors, measures, and manages the temperature at the facilities.

Better leverage of information and communication technology could potentially lead to as much as $2 trillion in savings, according to the GeSi Report, dubbed Smarter2020.

A recurring focus of the session involved how to make the existing power grid, a system a century old in some cases, more efficient and reliable. Currently between 6 percent and 8 percent of the electricity produced by power suppliers is wasted because the power grid is not smart, noted Florence Hudson, an IBM director in the company’s mission-critical communications and networking group.

Ways to make the system more responsive have been suggested by utility executives in the wake of widespread damage from Hurricane Sandy, which left 1.7 million customers without power, many for more than a week. Smart meters, for example, could improve communication between utilities and customers during outages and, potentially, when power prices spike.
In New Jersey, however, smart meters have met with a lukewarm reception, at best, from utility regulators. The lack of enthusiasm is primarily due to the cost to ratepayers, which could easily run in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Others at the summit touted distributed generation, power plants that produce electricity locally for big users like hospitals, colleges, and other facilities — but do some more efficiently than conventional plants. Brian Kane, a manager at Bloom Energy, touted his company’s efforts to use natural gas to produce the power needed at data centers around the country.

Hudson argued that the nation needs to be smarter about how its transportation sector uses electricity, and also needs to increase the energy efficiency of new buildings. For instance, she suggested that the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, which aims to build more energy-efficient structures, be renamed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Performance (LEEP) program, which actually measures whether designs yield the desired energy savings.

Various speakers also talked about the viability of developing an infrastructure for electric vehicles, a step that is also under various degrees of consideration by the New Jersey Legislature, although only in small pilot programs.