Broadband and information communication technologies have the potential of revolutionizing energy management and economic development. With less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States accounts for about a quarter of the world’s energy consumption. A poor communications infrastructure underlies much of our wasted energy use. In order to reduce energy, new communication technologies can be an important tool to better monitor and more effectively use natural resources. Advanced communications, including a more robust wired and wireless web, will play an essential role in facilitating and integrating these technologies.
Broadband policies, particularly those that support the expansion and implementation of smart grid technologies have real potential to reduce rising electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. With coordinated research, support and action from consumers, environmental advocates, labor and federal and state policymakers, broadband and related communications technologies can pave the way for a greener and more robust economy. If implemented effectively, these tools can transform the way people and businesses use technology and, according to some experts, have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and energy costs in the electricity sector by up to 20 percent by 2020, and, through further investments in the following decade, cut emissions in the electricity sector by 58 percent by 2030. This could also provide potential savings of up to $2 trillion in energy costs and reductions of as much as 53 quadrillion BTUs of energy use over the next two decades.
Information Communication Technologies Are Key to a More Efficient Coordination of Energy Supplies and Distribution: A Smart Grid better manages the distribution and consumption of energy that can facilitate more efficient energy use, integrate various sources of renewable energy into our power system, reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and increase grid reliability.
- Establishing Smart Grids at the transmission level will enable digital controls and high-voltage transmission lines to transport energy from renewable energy source sites to distant primary-use locations with far less energy loss than the current grid model.
- Using communications technologies will integrate distributed energy devices, from solar panels to smart appliances to electric vehicles, into the energy grid and allow monitoring such devices and renewable energy in real time.
- Increasing grid efficiency through real-time monitoring, automation and self-healing capabilities of distribution-level Smart Grid systems can increase grid efficiency, which results in reduced energy generation and reduced energy use. Energy savings equivalent to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from 53 million cars could be achieved by improving the efficiency of the grid by just five percent.
- By appropriating approximately $11 billion for Smart Grid and grid-related projects in the recent recovery plan, the federal government has taken a small but positive step towards the larger investments needed to modernize the current grid.
Smart Technologies can Reduce Energy Demand in the Home and Office: Installing Smart Meters and connecting home and office appliances to a Smart Grid can offer additional flexibility and opportunities to advance energy efficiency and clean energy goals.
- Using dynamic electricity rates can potentially increase energy and environmental gains as well as economic savings, but it is critical to ensure that consumers benefit from such rate system changes and that other areas of utility regulation remain to encourage other energy conservation programs.
- Instituting Smart Grid technology policies will encourage the creation of sustainable jobs in a transformed utility industry.
- Allowing various building systems to communicate and interact with each other through smart technologies will thereby reduce energy use and buildings’ negative impact on the environment.
Broadband can Reduce Travel and Fuel Costs: By reducing air and ground transportation — among the leading sources of pollution — broadband and support applications can reduce the need to travel, decrease gas consumption, and, if implemented correctly, make reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
- Increased adoption of broadband technology and telehealth practices could decrease travel by allowing doctors to monitor and consult with patients remotely.
- Telehealth technologies could avoid 850,000 transports between emergency departments, resulting in transit cost savings of $537 million a year.
- Teleconferencing and other remote online communication also can reduce the amount of energy used for business and education related travel.
In making the transition to the Smart Grid, Smart Buildings and related technologies, policymakers need to invest for the long-term in ways that benefit consumers, workers, and the broader public interest. The most sustainable technologies will be tied to broadband-based Internet protocols that easily integrate with other digital networks, both wired and wireless.
- To avoid locking consumers into proprietary technologies that may quickly become obsolete, smart meters and other demand-side management tools should use Internet-based broadband technologies, which can also leverage the wireless web and ensure that all parts of the Smart Grid work together.
- The wireless web, phone handsets, and other wireless devices and tools, such as applications on individual PDAs, can empower consumers to better manage their energy use.
- With more than 564,000 people working in the utility industry, policies that support the adoption of Smart Meters and Smart Grids should focus on creating new opportunities and training for front-line utility workers to enable them to be part of the broader information economy.
This Green Economic Future Depends on Large-Scale Adoption of Broadband: To realize the economic, environmental, and societal benefits discussed in this paper, we must commit to ensuring that everyone, regardless of income-level, educational background, geographic location, race, and age has the ability to, and understands the benefits of, being a participant in our digital society.
- As many as 24 million Americans have no access to broadband meeting Federal Communication Commission standards for high-speed broadband, and roughly one-third of U.S. households with access do not subscribe to broadband. Broadband subscription rates are under 50 percent for some groups, including certain minority populations, rural communities, and households with incomes of less than $50,000 per year.
- Therefore, to fully realize a robust green economic future, it will take a firm and long-standing commitment to extend transformative communications technologies to all Americans.
About BlueGreen Alliance
“The Blue Green Alliance is a national, strategic partnership between labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the green economy.”