How digital technologies can limit CO2-emmission

  • Bitkom releases study on the impact of digital transformation on climate change
  • 37% CO2-reduction potential until 2030 for Germany
  • Berg: ”Climate protection and digitalisation have to be considered jointly”

Berlin, 7 May 2020 - Digitalisation can play a central role in protecting the climate. However, protecting the climate with digital technologies is no self-fulfilling prophecy. It has to be driven by companies and politicians alike - that’s the result of a Bitkom study published today. The study - conducted jointly with the Borderstep Institut as well as the University of Zurich - analysed the direct and indirect impacts of digital transformation on the climate, aiming to identify specific action points: Which areas are particularly promising for protection based on digital technologies? Which harmful effects emanate from digital technologies, but could be reduced?

“Even during the current crisis caused by a global pandemic, we cannot forget about combatting climate change. Climate protection and digitalisation remain the two biggest challenges of our time and have to be considered jointly. Developing solutions for easing the harmful impact on climate as well as natural resources have to be at the centre of our discussions”, says Bitkom president Achim Berg. “The more we know about the direct links between CO2 emission and digital transformation, the better we can assess and use the benefits for our shared objectives”.

Bitkom’s study is analysing both direct and indirect implications, ranging from the use of digital infrastructures, such as data centres and telecommunication networks, to the application of terminal equipment in households and companies. A short overview on the results below:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions: According to the study, 1.8 to 3.2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the manufacturing and operation of digital equipment and infrastructure. Data centres and communication networks each account for around 15 percent and hardware and terminal equipment for around 70 percent. Overall, the authors of the study consider the magnitude of the global emissions of greenhouse gases from hardware in the ITC sector and in consumer electronics of around 900 to 1,100 megatonnes CO2 equivalent to be plausible for 2020. According to this calculation, data centres and networks will each emit about 200 to 250 megatons of CO2 equivalent in 2020. Whether emissions will continue to rise in the future due to growing digital infrastructures and the increasing number of private households and companies being equipped with digital devices, depends largely on the energy mix in the national power grids.
  • Potential from a global perspective: Digital technologies can save up to 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions - although the scientific scenarios differ. The greatest climate potential of digitisation are in the sectors of energy (electricity and heat), buildings, mobility and transport. In agriculture and industry, too, greenhouse gas emissions can be massively reduced through consistent digitisation.
  • Potential from a German perspective: With the help of digital technologies and solutions, it will be possible to avoid the emission of up to 290 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent in Germany in 2030 - this would correspond to around 37 percent of the forecast greenhouse gas emissions in 2030. The potential in Germany is almost twice as large as the global average, particularly in industrial production and the building sector, followed by the transport and energy sector.

Bitkom President Achim Berg emphasizes: "For decades the reconciliation of economy and ecology has been postulated. Digitization gives us the tools to finally bring economic growth and environmental protection together. For example, there is a whole range of digital levers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These include smart grids to improve network efficiency and integrate renewable energies, but also smart meters that help private households to reduce their energy consumption. Smart mobility, which relies on alternative forms of mobility, the combination of different modes of transport and better capacity utilization, is also an effective instrument not only for passenger transport but also for logistics". Automated monitoring of buildings avoids unnecessary heating and cooling.

Berg: "At the same time, we have to increase the energy efficiency of data centres: Their power consumption in Germany currently amounts to more than 12 billion kilowatt hours per year and their heat waste is still too often released into the environment without further use. The imminent shutdown of coal-fired power plants is causing a significant deficit in the district heating supply, which must be made up for. Industrial waste heat, especially from data centres, is ideally suited for this purpose". Last but not least, the expansion of renewable energies is also necessary. "Digitalization will become all the more sustainable and environmentally friendly the more electricity is supplied by renewables," emphasizes Bitkom President Berg.

The study can be accessed here: https://www.bitkom.org/Bitkom/Publikationen/Bitkom-Studie-Klimaschutz-durch-digitale-Technologien