There are a flurry of green technologies as companies and countries get serious about climate change and peak oil challenges. The idea of green technology is to reduce the environmental impacts, conserve natural resources, increase efficiency and curb our detrimental impact on our planet. As we all know, everything happens somewhere, so all events are geospatial in nature, and all green technologies have a hook into the geospatial industry in some way. But not all green technologies will relate and benefit the geospatial industry equally.
When I think about all the green technology that is gaining ground, there are some key areas for broad-scale improvements. Following is an outline of some of these more important green technologies, with some detail on how the geospatial community stands to benefit.
Let’s start with the machines and systems that run our technology. Computer workstations, servers, monitors and peripherals consume a great deal of energy. An eye-opening statistic to put this in perspective is the University of Colorado campus where an estimate 18,000 personal computers consume nearly $550,000 of energy every year. Computers also generate a great deal of heat that requires additional cooling, which adds more to this energy cost for a total estimated expenditure of $700,000 per year. A standard PC CPU consumes $120 of energy if left on continuously, but just $40 if run only during business hours.
Newer and more efficient servers, desktops and laptops are coming onto the market to help reduce power consumption. Another area where you can make an impact is the amount of paper that you use for print outs, and reusing and recycling materials such as ink and toner cartridges.
As a computer-oriented industry, it’s clear that how we run our offices, and the machines in our offices can have a significant impact on energy consumption and resources.
Geospatial technology has a significant role to play in the movement away from coal and petroleum toward alternative energies such as wind, solar, hydro, hydrogen, geothermal, biomass, fuel cells, and nuclear. Mapping efforts have been underway to help determine the optimum locations for solar and wind energy generation. Environmental impact studies of these locations incorporate geospatial analysis to assess the impacts of new facilities. Geospatial technologies are also used to plan power transmission routes to make certain that this new power gets to where its needed in the most efficient and expeditious manner.
The significant infrastructure needed for these new energy sources needs to planned, mapped, and maintained. The technology is used heavily throughout the lifecycle of the infrastructure. Geospatial technology has made significant contributions to the utility market and will continue to do so with green energy.
The area of green transportation is very broad, from the individual hybrid to mass transit, and more efficient airline engines. While geospatial technology is likely embedded in a majority of personal vehicles these days through in-vehicle navigation systems, there isn’t much play for the industry on the individual level. But, when you take a look at larger transit issues, there’s a huge role for geospatial technologies in planning and running integrated transportation systems.
Geospatial technology is used to plan and maintain new routes for rail and bus rapid transit that take into account the population and the destinations that need to be served. The technology helps operators of fleets to optimize their routes for the quickest times with the least amount of fuel consumption. By adding real-time traffic data to these systems, the drivers can react to conditions and increase their efficiency in the face of bottlenecks.
Geospatial technology can also be effectively used to educate the public on green transportation alternatives through web-based map programs that display multi-modal transportation options. A map that can be dynamically explored goes a long way in getting people out from behind the wheel and into less environmentally costly alternative transportation options.
The building industry has a long way to go to become more energy and resource efficient. Great strides are being made through building-oriented efficiency standards such as LEED. These standards are then being applied to larger geographic areas to encompass neighborhoods and campuses. The geospatial industry has a large role to play in this space that will only increase when the barriers between CAD, GIS and Building Information Models come down for more integrated sustainable design at multiple scales.
There is a convergence of disciplines that is taking place through the use of collaborative technologies. The inefficiencies of the building industry in terms of energy and resource consumption mandate sweeping changes that will certainly involve geospatial technologies in an ever-larger role.
While carbon trading itself isn’t a green technology, the use of carbon credits and payments to countries that reduce their emissions from deforestation and land degredation (REDD), is a green application of technology that necessitates large-scale monitoring and mapping of natural resources. REDD is a huge potential market for integrated geospatial technologies, including remote sensing and sensor networks.
Balancing those countries and companies that pollute against countries that maintain beneficial forestland that capture carbon and clean our air is an important balancing act that needs a system that can analyze geospatial inputs. Any carbon policy will need a GIS system at it’s core for assessment and enforcement.
Geospatial is Just Plain Green
Geospatial technology is green technology, as it ultimately contributes toward the goal of better stewardship for our planet. Large-scale monitoring of our planet against environmental metrics can only be accomplished through the application of geospatial technologies. No other technology can provide the big picture oversight that will be necessary to stem the harm that we’re doing to our planet. As more green technologies come inline, it will ultimately be up to geospatial technology to assess their impacts.
See what Jeff Thurston has to say on this topic here.