"Energy and Electricity Consumption of the ICT-sector in Finland", a study published in spring 2020 by the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy (ETLA) and Aalto University, sends a clear message on how difficult it is to monitor the environmental impacts of data usage by country. In the ICT sector, obtaining a general overview is complicated because data flows cross borders. For instance, services used in Finland can also activate data centres in countries with no mutual electricity production. Since all climate work is based on transparency and auditability, it is essential to obtain credible, comparable information across countries on the environmental aspects of data.
Information circulates in global networks and the energy usage of data may not be reflected in country-specific emission calculations. However, the transparency and reliability of emission calculations are essential to monitor and reduce the climate impact of the sector as a whole, in line with the agenda for sustainable development.
It is clear that the demand for energy consumption increases together with the amount of data and the use of ICT equipment, even if not in the same proportion as the amount of data owing to energy efficiency. On the other hand, the technology industry has the tools to fight climate change. As stated in the recent interim report of the ICT Working Group on Climate and Environmental Strategy, the sector consumes energy and materials, but also can lead towards a carbon-neutral society. ICT makes it possible to reduce the energy consumption of various industrial processes and via optimisation replace physical products, promote the foundation of a resource-efficient urban infrastructure with a smaller carbon footprint, and wider transit the economy towards a circular economy that utilises resources more sustainably.
With the help of new technologies and renewable energy sources, the production of energy is getting more environmentally friendly. From the climate change point of view it is therefore essential to know how the electricity, that is being used to produce data, is consumed. In emission calculations, the coefficient used for the conversion of electricity to carbon dioxide emissions depends on the structure of electricity production in each country. Globally, fossil fuels still play a major role in electricity production. When compared internationally, electricity consumed in Finland is relatively carbon-free.
One key to limit emissions is to take them into account already in the planning work. For example, the placement of data centres can significantly contribute to emissions. TietoEVRY benefits from Nordic data centres whose energy efficiency and usage of renewable energy are world-class. The continuous monitoring of emissions and addressing anomalies is another important part of our environmental work. Our concrete goal is to continue to increase the energy efficiency of our data centres and to use electricity produced from renewable energy sources, mainly wind power, in Nordic data centres. In addition, we donate heat back to the district heating network from the Espoo data centre. This energy heated 745 households in Espoo last year.
This opinion piece by Satu Kiiskinen, Managing partner, Finland, TietoEVRY was originally published in Kauppalehti.