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Government faces IT cooling challenge

The energy consumption of IT equipment and the air conditioning systems needed to keep them from overheating are becoming one of the biggest challenges facing Government efforts to become more sustainable.

A new report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee offered feedback on progress towards making Government operations more sustainable.

It underlined that growing IT use and the air conditioning associated with this was undermining efforts in other areas such as heating.

The report noted: “Departments have had success in reducing their demand for gas—down by 9.5 per cent across all departments in 2005 to 2006, reflecting a reduction in gas usage in office heating.

'However, this has been more than offset by a rise in electricity consumption. Across the entire Government estate electricity usage was up by 12 per cent on 1999 to 2000 levels, while taking civil departments on their own it was up 34 per cent.

“As for the single biggest reason for this increase in demand, there has been a large increase in IT usage.”

The committee accepted the launch of the Greening Government IT programme had responded to this issue, but emphasised this had to be focussed on by the newly created post of Chief Sustainability Officer.

The report said: “We recommend that this programme is made one of the single highest priorities of the Chief Sustainability Officer, reporting to the Cabinet Secretary. This would be to give it the attention it deserves, given that increased use of IT would appear to be the biggest single factor in the upward trend in emissions from civil departments.”

Overall the committee argued the Government needed to do far more across all departments to tackle issues raised by the Sustainable Development Commission’s Sustainable Development in Government (SDiG) report completed earlier this year.

The committee’s report concluded: “The sixth annual SDiG report reveals, behind the figures, very poor progress in tackling carbon emissions from the majority of departments.

'The Government response has announced many promising reforms; that there was a Government response to the SDC for the first time was itself a big step in the right direction.

'What is crucial now is that departments make good on this promise by adding detail to these
plans and accelerating progress in tackling carbon emissions and increasing on-site and
district renewables.

“In particular, rapid progress needs to be made on reducing demand for electricity, and increasing on-site and district generation of electricity from low and no-carbon sources.”

The report noted there also needed to be more clarity on what zero and low carbon targets meant within departments and whether electricity sourced through green supply contracts could be counted towards cuts in emissions.