Energy and the Environment

Skyrocketing energy prices, increasing dependence on unreliable foreign sources of energy, and global climate change all increasingly threaten our national security, health, and prosperity. For too many years, America has failed to address these critical challenges. Our nation's "energy policy" has been to have no energy policy. When the federal government's own scientists and experts attempt to write reports on the dangers of atmospheric pollution, elevated ozone levels, and other ecological threats, or draft meaningful rules to deal with those threats, the current Administration rewrites the reports to downplay the problems and waters down the rules.89

By implementing a National Broadband Strategy that includes initiatives to help Americans utilize broadband to reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide gas emissions, the new Administration can quickly and meaningfully address the threats that energy insecurity and environmental degradation pose to our nation. Taking strong executive action to deploy universal, affordable, and robust broadband; promote telework; and modernize our existing nationwide electricity system with innovative "Smart Grid" technology could rapidly reap substantial benefits.

Universal, Affordable, and Robust Broadband Will Reduce Energy Consumption and Benefit Our Environment

Increased utilization of robust broadband and the applications it enables can significantly decrease energy consumption and deliver impressive reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. After reviewing the impact that the widespread deployment of robust broadband throughout America would have on our economy and energy usage, a recent study published by the American Consumer Institute concludes that "the wide adoption and use of broadband applications [in the United States] can achieve a net reduction of 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas over 10 years, which, if converted into energy saved, would constitute 11% of annual U.S. oil imports." Specifically, the study finds:

  • Business-to-business and business-to-consumer e-commerce are predicted to reduce greenhouse gases by 206.3 million U.S. tons.
  • Telecommuting will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 247.7 million tons due to less driving, 28.1 million tons due to reduced office construction, and 312.4 million tons because of energy saved by businesses.
  • Teleconferencing could reduce greenhouse emissions by 199.8 million tons, if 10 percent of airline travel could be replaced by teleconferencing over the next 10 years.
  • Reduction in first-class mail, plastics saved from downloading music/video, and office paper from emails and electronic documents could reduce emissions by 67.2 million tons. For example, over the next 10 years, shifting newspaper subscriptions from physical to online media alone will save 57.4 million tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In summary, a review of existing literature shows that the potential impact of changes stemming from the delivery of broadband is estimated to be an incremental reduction of more than 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions over 10 years.90

Similar energy and emission reductions were recently reported in a study conducted for Telstra, the formerly state-owned Australian telecommunications giant. The authors concluded that using telecommunications networks would lower the nation's total emissions by almost 5 percent, "making the use of telecommunication networks one of the most significant opportunities to reduce the national carbon footprint."91

One telling illustration of the power of broadband technology to reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions is provided by UPS, which uses sophisticated broadband applications to plot delivery routes for its trucks that turn right and not left whenever possible. This enables UPS drivers to take advantage of "right on red" traffic laws and reduce their idling time waiting for oncoming traffic to clear. That not only saves fuel, but it also results in improved safety because drivers are not turning left across traffic. Utilizing this broadband technology, the company estimates that in 2007 it saved 3.1 million gallons of fuel and avoided pumping 32,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.92

Too often, unfortunately, information and communications technologies (ICT) are victims of what researchers at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) call the "ICT energy paradox," in which people tend to think of ICT applications as wasteful of energy rather than energy-efficient in the long run. To the contrary, however, the evidence shows:

For every extra kilowatt-hour of electricity that has been demanded by ICT, the U.S. economy increased its overall energy savings by a factor of about 10. These productivity gains have resulted in significant net savings in both energy and economic costs. The extraordinary implication of this finding is that ICT provides a net savings of energy across our economy.

Given that modern, digital ICT applications conserve energy and resources at a time when America suffers from a scarcity of both, ACEEE concludes that "as a nation we should commit to the realization of the energy-saving opportunities that new ICT opportunities provide."93

Telework - Saving Time , Money , and the Environment

Increasing the amount of telework94 performed throughout the public and private sectors could rapidly achieve significant reductions in energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, telework generates numerous other valuable personal and social benefits. Rush hour congestion is reduced. Fewer roads and offices are required. Workers enjoy more leisure time, boosting morale and productivity. Those who are elderly, disabled, and or have children in the home participate more effectively in the workforce. "Homeshoring" becomes a viable alternative to "offshoring" for businesses seeking to reduce costs. But a necessary prerequisite to realizing the full potential that telework can offer is universal, affordable, and robust broadband.95

Broadband-enabled telework offers huge potential savings for both the environment and workers. Ninety-one percent of America's workers (or 132.9 million people) use personal vehicles to commute to work. The American Consumer Institute estimates that these vehicles:

  • Generate 30 to 50 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Release 424 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year while being used for commuting, as well as 23 million tons of carbon monoxide, 1.8 million tons of volatile organic carbons, and 1.5 million tons of nitrogen; and
  • Consume 44 billion gallons of gasoline per year.96

At the price of $4 a gallon, the cost of gas alone for these private vehicles is $176 billion a year.

The Consumer Electronics Association estimates that using electronics such as personal computers and wireless networks to telecommute:

  • Saves the equivalent of 9 to 14 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year (equal to the amount of energy used by approximately 1 million U.S. households every year); and
  • could eliminate carbon dioxide emissions in an amount equal to taking 2 million cars off the road.97

Work from home has untapped potential - and is an underserved market. Only 2 percent of the American workforce are full-time teleworkers, although 28.7 percent of employees work at home at least one day per month, and 44.8 percent have worked from home at some time.98 Importantly, evidence indicates workers want to telework and are even willing to accept less pay to do so. A survey of 1,500 technology workers conducted by Dice Holdings, Inc., indicates that more than one-third of U.S. tech workers would accept pay cuts of up to 10 percent to work from home and avoid commuting to the office.99

Some negatives about telework, however, whether real or perceived, must be addressed and overcome. Many employees are concerned that telework may harm their chances for promotions or that their employers prefer that they come to the office to make sure they are productively working.100

At a time when telework could significantly reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, the federal government's workforce is actually reducing its telework participation. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management reports that of the 1.25 million federal workers who are eligible to telework, only 9 percent actually do. These teleworkers comprise just 6.12 percent of the total federal workforce. In 2006, the number of federal employees who teleworked actually dropped 7.3 percent to 110,592 from 119,248 in 2005, while the number of employees categorized as not eligible for telework leaped from 30 to 44 percent.101

One federal agency, however, the National Science Foundation, has over half of its employees teleworking, and reports that 87 percent of employees view teleworking positively. Importantly, 87 percent of managers report that the productivity of teleworking employees remains level or even increases. In addition, by not commuting, on average "each NSF teleworker reclaims 62 hours of their lives and saves $1,201 a year. Extrapolating those savings across the agency, NSF teleworkers collectively spare the environment over 1 million pounds of emissions and save more than $700,000 in commuting costs per year."102

These data suggest that, given sufficient opportunity, information, and high quality, affordable broadband, many more public- and private-sector workers potentially could - and would - telework. If only 10 percent more of the workforce regularly teleworked - roughly a doubling of today's percentage - greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced each year by an additional 42.4 million tons of carbon dioxide, as well as 2.6 million tons of other pollutants. Over a 10-year period, the direct and indirect benefits of this additional telecommuting would prevent more than a half-billion tons of added pollutants from being released into the atmosphere and generate direct savings of "$96.5 billion, including the cost of 4.4 billion gallons of gasoline each year."103

The effort to encourage federal workers to telework has been hampered because many employees do not have access to fast, affordable, and reliable broadband Internet access, a prerequisite for a successful telework initiative. Dan Matthews, one-time U.S. Department of Transportation CIO, says, employees need high-speed Internet access to work on large files, take part in videoconferencing and online chats with one or more co-workers. [Y]ou can't work using dial-up Internet access.104 Other reported barriers to increasing the numbers of federal employees who telework that must be addressed by the new Administration include:

  • Inadequate marketing of telework to employees;
  • Management resistance;
  • Inadequate office coverage;
  • Inadequate employee and manager training;
  • Inadequate IT budgets; and
  • Data and computer security.105

Smart Electrical Grid - A Broadband- Enabled, Money -Saving Collaboration

Jerry Brous, a retiree, owns one of 112 homes in the Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle, that as part of a pilot project were equipped with digital thermostats, water heaters, and clothes dryers fitted with computer controllers. With the thermostats and controllers linked to an Internet website, the homeowners could set their favorite home temperature, and how much variance from it they were willing to tolerate. They could also choose whether to buy more or less electricity depending on changes in pricing. Thus, they more precisely selected how to balance comfort and costs, and became active partners in managing the overall demands on the electricity grid. While the average household saved about 10 percent on its electric bill, Brous saved about 15 percent, which added up to $135 over a year.

"Your thermostat and your water heater are day-trading for you," said Ron Ambrosio, a senior researcher at IBM, which provided software and analytics for the project.

"I was astounded at times at the response we got from customers," said Robert Pratt, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's program director for the demonstration project. "It shows that if you give people simple tools and an incentive, they will do this. . . . [E]ach household doesn't have to do a lot, but if something like this can be scaled up, the savings in investments you don't have to make will be huge, and consumers and the environment will benefit."106

Using Internet-based "smart grid" technology to efficiently manage energy production, distribution, and consumption is becoming one of the fastest-growing segments of IT. In addition to providing utilities and consumers with savings of up to $70 billion over the next two decades, a Smart Grid will reduce our energy dependence and benefit our environment.107 "Energy companies have been doing things in a very similar fashion for their first 100 years," says Silver Spring Networks CEO Scott Lang. "But now there's this convergence of devices that can talk and radio frequency technologies and processing power. It's going to revolutionize the system. . . . To link them up we identified one standard: IP. The same kind of approach that makes the Internet work is going to make this work."108

In a Smart Grid, information flows "from a customer's meter in two directions: both inside the house to thermostats, appliances, and other devices, and from the house back to the utility. Smart Grid is defined to include a variety of operational and energy measures - including smart meters, smart appliances, renewable energy resources, and energy efficiency resources."109 A 21st-century smart grid will

  • Be "self-healing;"
  • Be more secure from physical and cyber threats;
  • Support widespread use of distributed generation, allowing customers to interconnect fuel cells, renewable generation such as wind, and other distributed generation on a simple "plug and play" basis;
  • Enable consumers to better control the appliances and equipment in their homes and businesses;
  • Interconnect with energy management systems in smart buildings to enable customers to manage their energy use and reduce their energy costs; and
  • Achieve greater throughput, thus lowering power costs.110

In the Smart Grid Newsletter, Alex Yu Zheng enumerates these compelling energy and environmental benefits from Smart Grid deployment:

  • Energy efficiency;
  • New power plants and transmission lines delayed or unneeded;
  • Wind, solar, and other sources of distributed generation that can be easily attached to the grid;
  • Load curtailment, demand response, and energy storage that are required for integrating wind or solar power into the grid at high levels are enabled;
  • Creation of a "clean" power market;
  • Consumer incentives for conservation;
  • Support for the increased load on the grid from next-generation hybrid and electric cars;
  • Support for more intelligent appliances;
  • "Manage" air pollution by flexible electricity pricing and other means; and
  • Advanced metering to help calculate environmental footprints.111

These Smart Grid benefits are predicated on one critical element - the intelligence supplied by millions of electricity consumers, distributors, and producers networked to each other by universally deployed and robust broadband access to the Internet.


The new Administration should use broadband technologies to meaningfully reduce energy consumption and improve environmental quality.

  1. Create a special government Energy, Environment, and Technology working group, under the leadership of the White House Chief Technology Officer, to break down the bureaucratic silos separating energy, environmental quality, and information technology regulators and experts, and bring them together to realize the promise that broadband and information technology can bring to our nation's challenges with energy scarcity and environmental degradation.
  2. Direct the U.S. General Services Administration, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and the White House Chief Technology Officer to, within 100 days,
    • Provide recommendations and assistance to all agency heads on ways to maximize voluntary telework without diminishing employee performance or agency operations, as well as ways to educate federal workers about the personal and social benefits of telework, including reduced energy usage, a healthier environment, and improved employee morale;
    • Establish and implement telework "best practices" for federal employees that will also serve as a model for adoption by state and local governments and the private sector;
    • Prescribe, in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, regulations to ensure the adequacy of information and security protections for information and information systems used in, or otherwise affected by, teleworking; and
    • Maintain a central, publicly available telework website to be jointly controlled and funded by the General Services Administration and the Office of Personnel Management to inform federal employees of regulations, best practices, case studies, and other information relating to telework.
  3. Direct each federal agency to:
  4. Appoint a Telework Managing Officer who will:
    • Advise the agency head and Chief Human Capital Officer on telework;
    • Educate supervisors, managers, and employees about teleworking;
  5. Work with Congress and the Department of Energy (DOE) to appropriate funding for Smart Grid demonstration projects, such as those described but not funded in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. Real-world demonstrations will
    • Determine the technologies that provide the most benefit for the investment;
    • Provide the credible data needed by utilities and other investors to make the business case;
    • Assist regulators in creating a regulatory environment that enables utility, consumer, and societal benefits to be fairly recognized while enabling utilities and others to fairly recover their investments;
    • Educate consumers on the value of the technologies and their increased choices for electrical service; and
    • Enable the industry to move beyond the current impasse.112
  6. Direct the DOE to report on progress made on achieving the EISA's "national policy goal" of a nationwide Smart Grid and recommend additional steps necessary to reach the goal, such as adoption of a Smart Grid investment tax credit, demand reduction tax credit, accelerated depreciation, or other steps.
  7. Recommend additional ways for the federal government to accelerate the adoption of Smart Grid technology, including using its purchasing power in the electricity market and increasing its purchasing of electricity from renewable energy sources, as called for by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.