Chandrakant Patel

ANOTHER VIEW— Guest commentary

Chandrakant Patel | How IT can better manage energy in a time of dwindling resources

An objective measure of consumption could enable more efficient manufacturing and operations

The drivers of the next generation of information technology services are the teeming millions who will avail IT services to address their fundamental needs and improve their quality of life. We have the opportunity to transform the world by deconstructing conventional value chains and replacing them with sustainable IT services that have a lower environmental footprint than the conventional infrastructure. This transformation can be delivered by an IT ecosystem made up of billions of service-oriented client devices and thousands of data centers.

We envision such an IT ecosystem enabling the next generation of cities, City 2.0, where available energy is managed as a key resource, and apportioned based on the need. We cannot expect to meet the needs of society by solely relying on replicating and extending the existing physical infrastructure to cope with economic and population growth. Indeed, anecdotal evidence of the strain that society is placing on the supply side is apparent: rising prices for critical materials, such as copper and steel; the dramatic reduction in output of the Pemex Canatrell oil field in Mexico, one of the largest in the world; and limitations in city scale waste disposal.

The depletion of available energy and limited natural resources necessitates next-generation infrastructures that are designed, built and operated using the least amount of materials and energy possible. The supply and demand side management resulting from IT-based business models – and, via measurement, communications and control -- will enable many societal and business activities to take place while providing a net positive impact on the environment compared to conventional business models.

To achieve the scale necessary in preserving resources for future generations, addressing sustainability with a “cradle-to-cradle” perspective – minimizing available energy needed for extraction, manufacturing, waste mitigation, transportation, operation and reclamation – will be required. In order to facilitate this perspective, a unifying metric is needed to allow for sustainable design and management across wide ranges of products and services.

The metric must be holistic and deliver a single objective measure that enables least-material and least-energy manufacture and operation. A metric based on available energy consumption, or exergy consumption, in Joules, across the life cycle of a product can facilitate the systemic perspective necessary to minimize depletion of critical resources. In this context, computer-aided design tools prevalent in the industry today can employ established techniques in thermodynamics, mechanical engineering, computer science and material science, to enable evaluation of supply chains that enable least Joules design.

Chandrakant Patel is an HP Fellow and Director of the Sustainable IT Ecosystem Laboratory at Hewlett Packard Laboratories in Palo Alto, Calif.

About the Author

Chandrakant Patel is an HP Fellow and Director of the Sustainable IT Ecosystem Laboratory at Hewlett Packard Laboratories in Palo Alto, Calif.

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Reader Comments

Tue, Jun 23, 2009

@ Tom: the life-cycle perspective discussed above addresses this embodied energy aspect.

Sun, Jun 21, 2009 Tom

But don't forget that manufacturing IT requires lots of energy, too: http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2009/06/embodied-energy-of-digital-technology.html

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