Type: Economics
Pages: 10 | Words: 2871
Reading Time: 12 Minutes

The current knowledge-based economy is mainly supported by the information and communication technology (ICT). The adaptation of ICT innovation in various parts of the world is taking place at a very high speed and the use of ICT has increased tremendously in the recent past (Fettweis & Zimmermann 2008). It is worth noting that the rapid growth in ICT adoption and use comes at a cost, since it is responsible for emitting a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the environment. This implies that continued growth in the ICT sector poses a danger to efforts directed toward reducing carbon emissions. This would, therefore, interfere with efforts to combat climate change. This report explores the interdependencies between the ICT infrastructure, energy supply and sustainability of ICT in the wake of climate change.

Linkage between ICT Infrastructure and Climate Change

Technical innovations in ICT, such as Internet use and personal mobile communications, are examples of innovations that have significantly altered the lives of many people around the globe. The number of users of these technologies increased rapidly since their inception. The rapid changes in the CPUs’ processing power and mass storage devices imply that people are often discarding old CPUs and storage devices. It is estimated that these changes take place within every eighteen months. In addition, these changes come with the need for increased speed of data transmission. Consequently, Fettweis & Zimmermann (2008) report that the speed of wired and wireless networks has increased ten-fold every five years to satisfy the needs of the ICT consumers. The innovative developments in the ICT sector have been linked to the economic boom in most countries (both developed and developing). The increasing adoption of ICT globally means that there is an increase in energy consumption. In addition, the rapid changes in ICT infrastructure imply that electronic waste is on the increase.

The increasing energy requirement in ICT is linked to both rising energy consumption by servers and rising adoption of the mobile communication systems. The increased requirement for faster data transmission and increasing number of Internet users implies that server energy requirement is always rising. It is estimated that there has been an increase in power consumption of between 16% and 20% per annum since 2003.  By the year 2006, server farms were said to be consuming about 180 billion kWh of energy per annum. This accounted for over 1% of the global annual energy consumption. A research carried out by ABI Research in 2008 reported that backhaul networks and the base stations of the cellular network operators consumed about 60 billion kWh annually. This accounts for approximately 0.33% of world wide electricity consumption (Fettweis & Zimmermann 2008). A related study by the White Paper reported that mobile networks account for about 0.12% of global electricity consumption. This implies that both mobile networks and server farms consume a significant amount of energy to support the ICT sector. In 2005, the overall carbon emission caused by energy consumption by mobile networks and server farms was argued to account for approximately 130 million tons per year (Fettweis & Zimmermann 2008). It should be noted that in 2005 server farms only had 27 million server nodes in comparison to 300 million hosts. It is therefore possible that the Internet`s energy consumption is far beyond that of server farms. This implies that carbon emissions by ICT sector are very high.

In the year 2008, telecommunication and server farms infrastructures were responsible for consuming about 3% of the global electricity consumption (Fettweis & Zimmermann 2008). It was forecasted that if the ICT growth rate was to remain at 16% annually, then the electricity consumption could rise by 30-fold of the 2008 consumption in 23 years. This implies that by 2030, the electricity consumption would have doubled, as contrary to the WEC prediction of this taking place in 2050. This rise would mainly be driven by the telecommunication and server farms infrastructure. It is also argued that Japan, North America and Western Europe would require 40% of the total electricity generated worldwide to spread the information technology standard of living (Fettweis & Zimmermann 2008). It is also argued that by 2018 energy needs for this task will outweigh its production. A study carried out by Gartner reported that ICT systems are responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions. With the widespread adoption of mobile communication and the need for quicker data transmission rates, there is a likelihood that carbon emission by ICT infrastructure will continue rising. Since carbon emission is linked to global warming that is responsible for climate change, there is a need to make ICT infrastructure more robust and reliable.

ICT solutions that are based on efficient innovative energy consumption can help address the climate change issues, while promoting sustainable economic development. Thus energy efficient ICT systems are both economically and ecologically beneficial. Various initiatives can help in ensuring that ICT systems are efficient in terms of energy consumption. One such initiative is the utilisation of energy backup high temperature electronic solutions rather than batteries. This can help to evade air conditioning that consumes surmountable amount of energy in the server farms and base stations. In addition, energy sensitive strategies that allow data storage and distributed computing can reduce the cost of content distribution. Moreover, energy consumption can be reduced through adaptive energy management on the basis of traffic/system load in all sectors of ICT infrastructure. For instance, this may be adopted in data centres which use massive parallel computing. The ICT infrastructure engineers can also develop new networks that work on the basis of “high density low transmit microcells and relaying instead of low density, high transmit power macro-cells†to reduce power consumption (Fettweis & Zimmermann 2008). Signal transmission, which utilises high efficient power amplifiers, can also reduce power consumption by ICT infrastructure. Programmable power efficient processors can also reduce power consumption while ensuring flexibility than the ASIC hardware. Furthermore, electricity consumption by ICT infrastructure can be reduced via the optimisation of the physical and MAC layer in order to maximise energy efficiency.

Climate Change Threats to Reliable Electronic Communication

Some climate changes might result in increased temperatures and rise in sea levels in the UK. This can result in increased frequency and intensity of severe weather conditions. Although it is not well understood how climate change may impact telecommunication, such adverse events might destroy national infrastructure (Horrocks, Beckford, & Hodgson 2010). Climate change threat to reliable electronic communication can either be in form a fast or a slow acting direct impact. The fast acting impact can be in the form of cyclone or flood. The UK government is trying to ensure that its infrastructure, including ICT infrastructure, is resilient to climate change. Government reports in the UK indicate that access to Wi-Fi internet and other forms of communication are threatened by global warming (Horrocks, Beckford, & Hodgson 2010). This is because Wi-Fi signals can be attenuated by variation in rain density. It is argued that the higher temperatures associated with global warming are likely to decrease communication range via wireless devices. In addition, rainstorms associated with climate change are also argued to be capable of impacting negatively the reliability of wireless communication signal. In addition, wetter winters and drier summers can result in increased subsidence and can damage underground cables and masts. Climate change may also result in flooding, damaging ICT infrastructure due to the increased destruction of overhead lines by trees falling. Other ICT infrastructure, such as antennae, aerials, switch boxes, masts, are also at risk of damage from wind, precipitation, humidity changes and unstable ground conditions (Horrocks, Beckford, & Hodgson 2010). The environmental stress associated with climate change also threatens the serviceable lifespan of ICT infrastructure. In addition, underground ICT infrastructure might be vulnerable to rising water tables and flooding associated with climate change. The UK government reports also argue that radio waves movement might be affected by the plants growing in the country as a consequence of climate change.

ICT Sector Response to Increased Demands by Users

The wireless network is important in ICT since it makes the system robust. The wireless network is constantly ensuring that mobile phone coverage is extended to rural areas from urban settings. Thus, the demand for mobile phone coverage is being addressed through wireless networks. This ensures that all people can access vital information related to weather and health. The ICT sector is providing sharp and clear coverage of mobile phones via wireless networks. The 2G and 3G mobile technology is constantly being integrated into the mobile phones to address users` demand for enhanced data transmission. This has increased the robustness of the ICT sector, since a person can access the internet wherever and whenever he/she wants. This implies that the ICT sector has been able to address the issue of flexibility that plagues wired networks. However, wireless networks are more vulnerable to climate change than wired networks (Pani 2011). Thus, service provision via mobile phones might be interrupted by adverse weather conditions associated with climate change, such as cloudy and stormy weather. The ICT network is responsible for creating a machine to machine system when the physical world is interconnected with remote sensor network. This allows remote control of machines. The machine to machine system is capable of automatically collecting, processing and transmitting information to implement a specific procedure. The M2M system provides ubiquity in the ICT sector.

The Interdependency between Wired, Wireless and Fibre Networks

ICT sector has been instrumental in interconnecting and integrating various sectors, such as transport, banking and other governmental sectors. Proper functioning of ICT infrastructure is dependent on continuous power supply. Information exchange in both wired and wireless networks is dependent on power supply and as such they have a two hour battery backup in case of power interruption. This implies that both wired and wireless networks are susceptible to climatic changes that might involve flooding and other adverse weather conditions. These conditions can greatly affect transmission of wireless broadcasts.

Wired and wireless networks are greatly interdependent. Wired networks use copper cables to transmit communication signals. This ensures faster data transmission as compared to wireless networks. This is why many businesses prefer these networks to transmit data. Wired networks are advantageous in terms of capacity than wireless networks because of their greater frequency range. Wired networks are important in providing wireless networks with backhaul connection. This entails connecting the wireless cell site to the core switch and to the Internet. The backhaul provided by wired network to wireless network is in two parts. The first part involves transportation of the signal to the central location from the cell site. The other part entails transportation of the signal from the central location to the Internet. However, it should be noted that in some instances the wireless network can use microwave technology to transmit data to the core switch from their towers. This does not imply that wired network can be rendered useless in the wireless network, since a microwave transmission can only provide transmission between two sites, prior to being transmitted to a wired device. Moreover, the bandwidth that can be supported by microwave technology is low. This is why the 4G wireless technology is designed to have a single hop before entering a wired network.

On the other hand, wireless signal transmission depends on communication between transmitter and recipient radio signals. This implies that different types of transceiver and antenna are needed in various workstations to receive and transmit communication signals in wireless networks. Interdependency in the wireless ICT infrastructure is provided by AM and FM radio signals. The ability of wireless networks to transmit or receive signals is dependent on the availability of either a wired or fibre network. This is because wireless signals transmitted via air are vulnerable to interference from physical features, such as trees, buildings and hills. Moreover, the air spectrum is shared with other wireless services that can easily crowd the network if many users simultaneously use this network. Wireless network has a cell site that is situated near the consumer and network core, which is connected to the cell site via a wired or fibre transport. Therefore, the fibre or the wired network allows the wireless network to overcome interference from the environment that might degrade signal transmission. Wireless networks are dependent on radio spectrum that is in the form of electromagnetic frequencies.  The electromagnetic waves can cause explosions when they come into contact with oil or gas. This hazard can be overcome via fibre communication.

Fibre communication entails transmission of signals via strands of glass fibres inside an insulated casing. The fibre optic cables carry high bandwidth signals and stretch for long distances. Communication signals in fibre optic cables are carried in the form of light pulses. Signal transmission involves conversion of electric signal into a light signal that is carried by the fibre optic cable. The receiver in a fibre network is designed to accept light signal and convert it into an electrical signal. Fibre communication offers various advantages in the ICT sector. First, fibre communication has a wide range of bandwidth and its loss is negligible. The infrastructure needed for fibre communication is light and hence it is portable. The network also ensures that no significant radiation arises, since signal transmission is secured. The fibre communication also helps to overcome reliability problems linked to electrical conductor in wired and wireless networks.

Regulatory Changes

Predictions about climate change are clouded by uncertainties. This calls for development of methodologies that can reflect the climate change uncertainties. Establishment of probabilistic standards instead of absolute need for performance can help engineers to respond effectively to climate change issues. The planning, designing and maintenance of infrastructure by engineers should be on the basis of systems thinking. This kind of a system requires collaboration among engineers from different sectors to develop infrastructure that can perform different tasks. Collaboration at such a scale can only be realised if the government deals with the infrastructure as a system within various systems. This implies that the government needs a mechanism of making holistic strategic decisions in relation to the infrastructure.  This calls for different regulatory bodies to collaborate when planning for changes to adapt to climate change. Collaborative planning will ensure that regulatory bodies influence the government to implement policies that reduce vulnerability of other sectors to climate change when one sector is compromised (Engineering the Future 2011). This will in turn help engineers to design an infrastructure that is less vulnerable to changes that might affect a single sector.

Regulatory bodies can also formulate standards, which enable resumption of a partial service after an emergency (Engineering the Future 2011).  Such standards may require engineers to acquire crisis management skills that can enable them to deal with emergencies quickly and efficiently. These kinds of standards may influence the government to install infrastructure that can ensure service continuity or quick service resumption in case of emergency.

The expected effects of climate change in the UK are not unique. The regulatory bodies can scout for technologies being used in other parts of the globe and tailor them to fit the UK situation (Engineering the Future 2011). The regulatory farms may then urge the government to adopt a policy that encourages engineers to adopt such technologies when constructing the infrastructure. This will ensure that the infrastructure constructed in the country is resilience to climate change.

Regulatory bodies can also play an important role in ensuring that engineers adopt probabilistic methods in adapting to uncertain situations that might arise due to climate change. The bodies can do this by influencing the government to implement policies, which require engineers to use modelling techniques to plan for any uncertainties. Moreover, the bodies can create guidelines on how engineers can develop systems thinking at workplace. The guidelines will allow engineers to be well prepared to implement probabilistic methods of dealing with emergencies.


The effects of climate change on ICT infrastructure are clouded with uncertainty. The functioning and operation of the ICT sector are highly dependent on the energy sector. This dependency raises some environmental issues, especially the carbon emission issue that is related to global warming. The demand for energy in the ICT sector is increasing rapidly. Most of the energy in the ICT sector is consumed by servers and the mobile communication systems. Moreover, the rapid changes experienced in the ICT sector come with unprecedented amount of IT waste that may have devastating effect on the environment if not well managed. Climate change may have several devastating effects on the ICT sector. The change can result in both physical damage and degradation of information transmission. The ICT sector is increasing mobile phone coverage around the globe and enhanced data transmission is being incorporated into mobile phones. The ICT sector is also promoting automation of processes via machine to machine systems. Wired, wireless and fibre networks are highly interdependent. Even though wireless networks are flexible, they rely on fibre or wired cables to transmit its signals. The three communication approaches complement each other by making up for deficiency that might exist in another approach. Regulatory bodies can be at the centre stage of ensuring that engineers approach climate change uncertainties using probabilistic methods. This can be attained through encouraging collaboration between different sectors, formulating standards and guidelines, adopting technologies used elsewhere and encouraging adoption of systems thinking at workplace.

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