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Breaking cities into small segments will speed up the sustainable transition

The net zero campus: the building block of sustainable cities

By Safder Nazir, Senior VP of Public Sector, Huawei, Middle East & Central Asia

In 2015, Jan Eliasson, then Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, made a statement that was simple but profound. 

“Cities,” he said, “are where the battle for sustainable development will be won–or lost, if we fail.”

Throughout history, people have moved to cities seeking security, prosperity, and social interaction. Today, cities are growing bigger. Megacities with populations greater than 10 million will have grown fourfold by 2023, housing more than five times as many people as in 1990.

When it comes to sustainability, cities matter. They consume 78% of the world’s energy and produce more than 60% of its greenhouse gas emissions. 

The campus is key
To control carbon emissions, we must focus on the campus. 

When most people hear that word, they think of a university, but for urban planning, it can have a broader meaning. A campus is a bite-size chunk of city—anything from a single development to an entire district—whose management and control come under a single administration. A shopping mall, a factory, or even a mixed-use development can be a campus. 

Breaking cities down into smaller, more manageable segments can accelerate plans for a sustainable transition. This could begin with a target of achieving net zero energy, a situation where the total amount of energy used annually would equal the amount of renewable energy created onsite. 

That step would set every campus, and therefore every city, on a path towards carbon neutrality and ultimately toward net zero—a term that refers to removing from the atmosphere a quantity of greenhouse gases (GHGs) equal to those emitted by human activity. Transitioning to a “net zero world” is one of the greatest challenges facing humankind. 

The net zero campus
Global carbon emissions from information and communications technology (ICT) are still in the low single-digit range, with some estimates around 4%. That may sound low, but it’s already higher than the emissions from the airline industry, and the proportion of global energy used by enterprise and data center networks is expected to nearly double by 2030 from a 2020 baseline. That growth has to be managed through what we call “Carbon Conscious ICT.”

When ICT becomes more energy-efficient, its carbon footprint gets smaller. But ICT can also help other industries reduce their carbon footprints. It does this by providing new technologies, energy solutions, raw materials, or business models that replace something currently being used. 

This is known as the carbon handprint. According to figures from the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), by 2030, ICT’s carbon handprint could be 10 times as big as its footprint.

ICT Load Expected to Grow Even with Systems Becoming More Efficient Over the Decade (All Numbers Shown in Twh)

New innovations can allow campuses to optimize their energy use while reducing their carbon footprint. For example, a building could go from employing a traditional three-tier ICT network design to using a two-tier design. Traditionally, ICT rooms (also known as IDFs) would be required on every floor. The floor space, associated power, and cooling requirements can be removed from the building design, lowering energy use by up to 30% and significantly reducing the carbon footprint of manufacturing and shipping. 

At the same time, the use of AI in rooftop solar solutions can increase the quantity of energy harvested from each panel. Advances in battery storage technology will also allow greater energy yields to be drawn from the batteries over their lifetime. 

Together, these and other solutions will give every campus—and every city and country—a roadmap to net zero.

To learn more about the net zero campus, scan the code below.

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