Sunday, October 12, 2014

Reducing a University's Carbon Emissions

In the article  "ANU is top carbon emitter among unis" ( Tim Dodd reports that the Australian National University has higher carbon emissions per student than other Australian universities.

Carbon emission figures are published by the Clean Energy Regulator. The way these figures are calculated and how to reduce them is discussed in my book "ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future" and the ANU course COMP7310.

Education and research organisations are well down on the list of emitters. For scope 2 emissions (use of electricity and other indirect emissions), the top emitter is CSIRO, in 98th place. The CSIRO and ANU have similar intensity of emissions per staff member, both being research organisations which also provide facilities to researchers at other institutions.

As has been pointed out ("Belted from pillar to post",  Sinclair Davidson,
supercomputer used by researchers in government agencies (ironically to predict climate change from carbon emissions). During planning for the facility, I was asked what measures could be taken to reduce its energy use. With an administrative data centre you can lower power use at limes of low demand. But with a super computer there is only so much you can do to reduce energy use. A super-computer runs at full speed much of the time (that is what makes it "super") and so uses a lot of energy.

As discussed in my book and course, there are ways to reduce energy use of administrative computers and use computers to reduce emissions from other activities. One way is by Dematerialisation, which is not an exotic technology from Star Trek, but simply replacing paper with electronic processing. An example is the ANU Digital Transformation Project is to replace paper administrative forms. As well as the saving in energy used to make the paper, the energy needed to transport it around and store it (in some cases for decades) is saved. Of course the computer system used to replace the paper forms also uses energy and so it needs to be checked that it is run efficiently.

Other forms of dematerialisation are blended learning and e-learning, where part, or all of the classroom teaching is replaced with on-line equivalents. Blended learning reduces the classrooms needed, or allows existing classrooms to be used more intensively. E-learning eliminates classrooms entirely and then there are additional emissions savings from students not having to travel to class. But there is increased energy used by the computer systems at the university to provide the on-line courses and students will be using a computer more, which cuts into any overall savings.

No comments:

Post a Comment