An initiative launched today by Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs aims to develop technologies within five years that can reduce communications networks' energy consumption by a factor of 1,000.
Organizers said the effort will radically transform the sector to reduce energy use and carbon emissions.
"Imagine the amount of energy it takes for the global communications network to operate for one day. That same amount of power would represent three years of operation in this new network," Gee Rittenhouse, director of research for Bell Labs, said at a launch event in London.
A team of Bell Labs researchers found that the theoretical minimum energy needed to power communication technologies is 10,000 times less than is used today, making the 1,000-fold decrease an ambitious but realistic goal, Rittenhouse said.
The information and communications technology (ICT) sector emits 300 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, Rittenhouse said. Incremental improvements on current technologies will at best allow the sector to hold steady at that level as global ICT use grows, he said.
The new initiative, dubbed "Green Touch," will focus on developing a common reference architecture, set of specifications and road map for a new, energy-efficient ICT paradigm, and on demonstrating key technologies within five years.
Rittenhouse said that while today's technologies are optimized around performance and cost, the new framework would prioritize energy use and performance.
The Green Touch group includes 15 founding members from the research, nonprofit and industry sectors, including AT&T Inc., China Mobile Ltd., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Research Laboratory of Electronics, Stanford University's Wireless Systems Lab, the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control, and Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology.
The group is open to other participants "with no conditions," the organizers said. A planning meeting will take place next month at which intellectual property issues will be discussed, according to a group Web site.
Rittenhouse said the consortium's inclusion of communications and technology firms in its membership guarantees that any solutions will be competitive in the marketplace, in part trading on the significant energy savings they will offer.
In a statement, Energy Secretary Steven Chu praised the new effort led by his alma mater, Bell Labs.
"Truly global challenges have always been best addressed by bringing together the brightest minds in an unconstrained, creative environment," Chu said. "This was what we used when putting a man on the moon and is the same approach we need to implement to address the global climate crisis."
Correction: This story was corrected at 2:30 p.m. EST to reflect that the initiative is targeting a 1,000-fold reduction in energy use. An earlier version listed an incorrect figure.