Green IT, intelligent power grid said key areas for a national energy policy

 Green IT and a Smart Grid for distributing electrical power to the nation are among programs identified by a presidential advisory board that could contribute to U.S. energy independence.

In addition to energy savings from reducing power consumption in data centers, improved efficiencies from advanced information and communications technology could reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power generation by as much as 15 percent by 2020, the National Science Board (NSB) estimated. Updating an antiquated electric grid with Smart Grid technologies could help protect the environment as well as reduce costs for both utilities and consumers.

“Smart Grid technologies reduce the environmental impact of electricity production by reducing load during peak demand as well as making it easier to integrate clean energy sources into the grid,” the board said in a report on energy policy.

However, without a significant effort by government to lead the way with nationally coordinated research, development, demonstration, deployment and an education strategy, the adoption of sustainable energy technology will fall short of what is needed to address current environmental and economic challenges, the board said.

“Our report calls for the U.S. federal government to take the lead and set an example,” said Jon Strauss, co-chair of the NSB task force on sustainable energy.

The NSB is helps to set policy for the National Science Foundation and is an advisory body to the president and Congress. A sustainable energy task force for formed by the NSB in 2007 to develop recommendations for a national energy strategy. The results are included in a report released this week for comments, “Building a Sustainable Energy Future.”

The board concluded that continued reliance on fossil fuel poses a threat to the country's economy as well as to the global environment. Although alternative technologies are emerging, projected trends for the next 25 years to 50 years show little change in the energy outlook without concerted international action, and the U.S. government needs to spur this action by investing in research for new programs. Areas identified for investment in addition to green IT and Smart Grid are:

  • Advanced, sustainable nuclear power.
  • Alternative vehicles and transportation technologies.
  • Basic S&E research that feeds into applied energy technologies,
  • Behavioral sciences as it relates to energy consumption,
  • Carbon capture and sequestration.
  • Economic models and assessments related to sustainable energy.
  • Energy efficiency technologies at all levels of generation, transmission, distribution and consumption.
  • Energy storage.
  • Renewable energy supply technologies (e.g., solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, biomass/biofuels, kinetic, tidal, wave, ocean thermal technologies).
  • “Systems” approaches to large-scale sustainability solutions, including full life-cycle analyses of energy systems -- such as  advanced fossil-fuel technologies and biomass-derived fuels.
  • Zero-energy buildings.

The report said IT and communications services are critical to the nation’s productivity, but that they also are large contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. It recommended renovating data centers with new energy-efficient equipment, moving data centers near renewable energy sources and putting data centers underground to utilize passive cooling. Efforts to improve energy efficiency are being incorporated in the design of many new data centers.

Smart Grid development has been identified a priority in the economic stimulus law, which includes $4.5 billion for development of the technology and standards for the new infrastructure. The Energy Department has been given the lead in this effort, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology has been assigned responsibility for developing and identifying interoperability and security standards.

The concept of a Smart Grid involves technologies designed to make the electricity grid more efficient, reliable, and capable including:

  • Integration of digital, controls, and cyber-security technologies that allow the grid to perform more reliably and securely.
  • Utilization of advanced storage technologies, including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, to mitigate peak load and integrate intermittent energy sources, such as wind and solar.
  • Deployment of intelligent appliances in homes and offices, as well as smart meters that can communicate signals from the power provider to consumers and appliances about price signals and demand response.

Comments on the NSB report and recommendations can be sent by e-mail message to [email protected] until close of business May 1.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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