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New think tank puts green IT front and center

March 04, 2014

As part of a trend within the information technology industry and the government, IT experts are researching innovative solutions to find sources of sustainable, environmentally friendly energy. President Obama's administration previously announced greater support for sustainable IT energy initiatives within federal agencies, and information technology companies have invested in measures like energy efficient data centers. Now, a new think tank has come to the fore to drive policies and encourage research for more efficient energy systems.

Center for Clean Energy
In February, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) announced that it had established a new think tank called the Center for Clean Energy, a group specializing in researching government policies and public investments in sustainable energy. Matthew Stepp, the executive director of the think tank, earned his Master's degree in science, technology, and public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, the National Journal reported, which points to the integral role of IT expertise for this project. 

"The development of cheap, clean energy is the central challenge of the 21st century," Stepp said. "However, to accomplish this goal it is critical that we start taking energy innovation challenges seriously and make it a top policy priority in the United States and abroad."

He told the National Journal that he wants to see the same technological innovation and advancement for green energy as that which has been poured into fracking projects. The center will focus on supporting research and development, energy policy, clean technology trade policy, advanced manufacturing and educational initiatives to bring more people into green IT jobs, such as STEM training programs.

Prioritizing green IT
The new think tank joins a movement throughout the information technology field and government agencies aimed at lowering emissions and reducing energy expenses. As IT networks expand to accommodate greater volumes of data and branch into more diverse industries and tools, it's increasingly pressing to identify efficient energy solutions. 

California, for example, is striving to create ways to store more energy in conjunction with its solar energy projects, Forbes magazine reported. The state requires utilities to derive a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, the magazine added. The ability to store solar power as a backup or for night use requires additional technology support, such as smoothing out the connections and setting up the appropriate infrastructure.

NBC explained how green energy trends are converging more intimately with IT resources. The Internet of Things is fueling the development of more "smart" objects that can collect and react to information about energy usage. The source suggested that these devices will help consumers be more efficient in their energy usage through services like reminding people to pick up an item on their way home from work so they can avoid making a special trip in the evening. Gadgets like smart thermostats could help people manage their home energy usage more efficiently.

"Smart hardware won't solve our consumption addiction, but it will allow us to be much more efficient," Dan Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley, told NBC. "And movement of goods around is a big deal."

All of these products are driven by technological innovation and they form an important complement to research into alternative energy sources.

Smart cities—the cities of the future?
The Center for Clean Energy will recommend an agenda for policymakers on clean energy development. It could include support for initiatives that have already started to gain traction, like smart grids for more efficient energy usage. NBC described how recent technological developments have shaped the way electricity is brought to people, cutting waste through features such as sensors that automatically shut off unnecessary appliances when energy demand is high and better meters that enable people to more accurately track their usage.

Green IT initiatives extend beyond the grid and appliances, however. Green Biz explained that they could be at the very center of the city of the future—a "smart city" that runs more efficiently and sustainably. IT consulting will be crucial as initiatives across industries seek to use data to drive better resource usage. According to the source, the Smart Cities Council identified information and communication technology as the fundamental core of a city that aims to enhance its "livability, workability and sustainability."

Data from a variety of sources can be used to drive more efficient processes. Green Biz gave the example of how social media information from several apps could be analyzed with the intention to reduce traffic congestion and improve transportation services. The applications for data analytics are myriad, encompassing energy management as well as community engagement, the source suggested.

Whether green energy projects encompass a city infrastructure overhaul like the one Green Biz described or more centralized data center initiatives within large information technology companies, the increasing prioritization of green IT and energy by industry leaders and policymakers highlights the important role technology will continue to play in a sustainable future.

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