Digital technologies promote environmental protection!

Last Updated: 1. März 2024By

Wind turbines that use sensors to optimally adjust their rotor blades to the wind speed, fields that are fertilized more efficiently based on satellite data, factories that produce highly efficiently and save energy thanks to AI: Digital technologies can significantly contribute to Germany achieving its climate goals by the target year of 2030. As the new Bitkom study „Climate Effects of Digitization“ shows, annual CO2 emissions in Germany can be reduced by around 73 million tons in 2030 if digitization is accelerated. This is a net effect, in which the CO2 emissions from the use of these technologies, including data centers and end devices, are already taken into account.

The study states that digitization can contribute almost a quarter to Germany’s self-set climate goals in 2030. If digitization continues at the current pace instead of being accelerated, savings of around 50 million tons of CO2 can be achieved in 2030 – which corresponds to 16 percent of the target. In 2022, Germany’s CO2 emissions were still at 746 million tons, and according to forecasts, they will be at 673 million tons in 2023 and only 438 million tons in 2030.

The Bitkom concludes that the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly noticeable and its handling is becoming more urgent. We must explore all possibilities to ensure that Germany achieves its climate goals. With digitization, we have a powerful lever to significantly reduce CO2 emissions while increasing our competitiveness. The more ambitious the use of digital technologies is promoted, the greater the savings.

The study on the climate effects of digitization

The Bitkom study „Climate Effects of Digitization“ was carried out by sustainability and digitization experts from Accenture. The study examines the CO2 effects of using digital solutions in the particularly relevant sectors of energy, buildings, industry, transport, and agriculture based on three projections for future CO2 emissions.

First, a pessimistic projection of high CO2 emissions in 2030, second, an optimistic projection of low emissions, among other things through an 85 percent coverage of electricity demand by renewable energies. The following looks at the climate effects of digitization based on a third projection of moderate CO2 emissions. This is in the middle between the pessimistic and particularly optimistic CO2 projections.

What CO2 emissions come from digital technologies themselves? This question is also answered by the study. The operation of technologies, as well as end devices such as screens, computers or tablets, and the operation of network infrastructure and data centers, indirectly cause CO2 emissions. If digitization is accelerated, the CO2 footprint of digital technologies in the five sectors will be 3.8 million tons in 2030 in the middle of the three projections considered. If digitization continues at the current pace, it will be 2.1 million tons.

The results of the sectors at a glance:

Energy: Digital technologies have the greatest potential for CO2 savings in the energy sector. Up to 26.4 million tons of CO2 can be saved in 2030 with accelerated digitization and 24.5 million tons of CO2 with standard digitization. Two main factors are smart grids, i.e., intelligent power grids in which electricity generation and consumption can be precisely controlled. They use sensors, smart meters, and real-time data processing to balance supply and demand for energy dynamically. Secondly, there is high potential for savings in the smart production of renewable energies. With the help of digital technologies, energy production from renewable sources becomes more reliable and efficient. For example, solar panels can be optimally aligned and tilted depending on the sunlight by using intelligent control systems and algorithms. Wind turbines can analyze wind speeds and directions and adjust the position and angle of their rotor blades accordingly.

Building sector: A home that automatically turns down the radiators when a window is opened, an office that intelligently controls the air conditioning depending on weather conditions and the number of people present: Smart homes and intelligent, networked buildings can save a lot of energy. According to the Bitkom study, around 12.4 million tons of CO2 can be saved in 2030 with a standard spread of smart building technologies in private and commercial environments. It is up to 18.3 million tons if the spread of smart technologies is accelerated. Previous funding programs for energy-efficient renovation of buildings are still too focused on traditional measures. However, the fight for the climate is not won with thick insulation alone; it is primarily won with smart control, another conclusion of the study from Bitkom.

Industry: In industrial production, up to 12.7 million tons of CO2 can be saved with accelerated digitization in 2030 – and 5.6 million tons with a standard digitization pace. One significant technology is automation in production, in which systems and machines, workpieces, and their components are networked, and processes run independently with the lowest possible use of materials and energy. Secondly, the digital twin is responsible for significant CO2 savings. These virtual images of complete production and operating cycles make it possible to carry out processes on the digital rather than the real object initially – this can save massive amounts of material, energy and resources. With digitization, the industry can tackle two urgent challenges at the same time: it becomes not only more climate-friendly but also faster and more efficient.

Transport: Up to 9.3 million tons of CO2 can be saved with accelerated digitization and up to 3.5 million tons of CO2 with standard digitization in the transport sector in 2030. Potentials lie particularly in a digital transport network and digital traffic optimization, in which sensors on the road or GPS systems in cars provide real-time data with which traffic lights can be switched, traffic flows redirected, or public transport strengthened. Up to 5.5 million tons of CO2 can be saved in this way. Smart logistics that avoid empty runs of trucks and optimize freight routes are also a significant lever.

Agriculture: The production of fertilizers, among other things, requires large amounts of energy. A significant part of the fertilizer does not reach the plants in the field but ends up in unplanted areas and often pollutes groundwater. With the help of digital applicators and an analysis of the soil, these unwanted effects can be drastically reduced by applying