Could Mobile Technology Save Europe Billions?

mobile phone in hand photo

Photo via whiteafrican CC BY 2.0

Yes. Er, well, sort of. According to a new report by Vodafone titled "Carbon Connections: quantifying mobile's role in tackling climate change," mobile technology can be a driver in getting Europe's energy bills cut by about $61 billion (€43 billion) annually, and cut emissions by 113 million tons of CO2e by 2020. This sounds awesome, but what exactly do they mean by "mobile technology"?Mark Foster, group chief executive of Management Consulting & Integrated Markets at Accenture, a partner company generating the report, said, "There is a clear and immediate imperative to take further steps to reduce global emissions, and the communications industry will yet again play a pivotal role by enabling the transition to a low-carbon economy. For example being able to access high-definition video conferencing from a mobile device can cut down the need to travel."

Well, that sounds pretty amazing, but it's a little doubtful that things like video conferencing could have such an enormous impact. Further reading in the report shows that we need to take these numbers with enthusiasm and a grain of salt. Their metrics include mobile technology that is built into the real energy reducers like smart grids and smart cities.

The opportunities for carbon abatement fall into two main categories:

Smart machine-to-machine ("M2M") services: These connect one piece of equipment wirelessly with another and represent 80% of the potential carbon saving. They include:
Smart grids — improve the efficiency of electricity grids through wireless devices to monitor power losses and load capacity of the electricity transmission and distribution network.
Smart logistics — use mobile technology to track vehicles and their loads to improve the efficiency of logistics operations by utilising vehicles more fully and optimising fuel economy.
Smart manufacturing — reduces the requirement for field maintenance through remote analysis of equipment performance.
Smart cities — improve traffic and utilities management.

Dematerialisation: This is the substitution of physical goods, processes or travel with 'virtual' alternatives, such as video-conferencing or online shopping. This represents 20% of the potential energy savings identified.

So in other words, overhauling power grids, designing intelligent cities, and changing our product-centric mentalties, then building mobile technology into those is actually what could lead to such a big savings. While the report is a bit overly generous about what stand-alone mobile technology can accomplish, it does a great job in pointing out what bigger technologies we need to change to reduce our energy consumption on the whole, and highlights the supplemental technologies - mobile technologies - that will help us do that.

The report also highlights how companies jumping on the green tech bandwagon can put out some bendable reports. We really can save billions and tons, in Europe and everywhere, but it takes more than just some greening up with mobile technology. It's taking some far bigger shifts in technology and how we use it.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
More on Mobile Technology and Saving the Planet
How Cell Phones Are Changing the Face of Green Activism
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