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Horribilis to mirabilis via digitalization

The end is nigh for what has been an ’annus horribilis’ for many, and there is still seemingly not much to be jolly or festive about just yet. Although vaccines have been developed at breakneck speed and vaccination programmes have begun in some countries, the current state of imposed libertarian restrictions on a social mammal such as Homo sapiens is likely to linger for some time into 2021.

The carbon footprint of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and data traffic development. According to an Ericsson report, the global ICT sector (2019) accounted for about 3.6 percent of global electricity consumption and has a carbon footprint of approximately 730 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2-eq) or 1.4 percent of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (graphic courtesy Ericsson).

The cloud on that horizon is that in some regions, these restrictions, both physical and digital, risk remaining enforced long after that corona has reverted to being a beachside brand of beer or cigar.

One silver lining in all this though is that perhaps now, more than ever before, do we begin to understand the all-encompassing impact and potential that digitalization with the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has on our daily professional and personal lives.

Short of becoming avatars, we’ve managed to transfer most of what constitutes physical interaction with other fellow beings into cyberspace in our bid to avoid physical contact.

For digital novices affected by isolation as a result of social distancing, it has undoubtedly been a steep learning curve. One can entertain the idea of how this would have worked had the pandemic struck at the beginning of this century. This degree of digital dependence and cyber-mobility coupled with the pace of development is of course two-sided.

Aside from slanderous social media posts and fake-news, the dark side reflects the in-real-life human condition in all its sinister and raw gory while regulation and legislation are by default trailing behind.

While much has transferred into cyberspace, there is still plenty that cannot. So, although those X-mas presents might have been ordered and purchased online, they still physically need to be manufactured and/or transported to the doorstep – manufacturing, shipping, storage, and logistics. Those few transactional clicks, whereby binary data sparks off physical actions somewhere else, ultimately consumes energy and resources, directly and indirectly, giving rise to emissions – a digital footprint.

Given the rapid developments in digitalization and the presumed surge in data traffic this year, will say travel emissions be replaced by power emissions?

To continue reading this article, which appears in the latest issue of  Bioenergy International (no. 6/2020), you need to be a subscriber. The link provides the remainder of this article along with a preview of the contents and articles that appear in this issue as well as details on how to subscribe. Note that as a magazine subscriber you get access to the e-magazine and articles like this before the print edition reaches your desk!

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