Results of a Bitkom survey presented

Does digitalization contribute to climate protection?

26. November 2020, 14:25 Uhr   |  Tobias Schlichtmeier

Does digitalization contribute to climate protection?

Advocates of digital strategies repeatedly raise the issue of sustainability and climate protection. However, it is questionable whether digitalization can contribute anything to achieving the climate goals. A study by the digital association Bitkom provides initial answers.

Germany wants to and must meet its climate targets by 2030 – and digitalization can make a valuable contribution to this. This is shown in a current study by Accenture on behalf of the digital association Bitkom. According to the study, Germany can reduce CO2 emissions by around 120 Mt in ten years – with the help of digital products and applications. Whereas CO2 emissions in 2019 were still 805 Mt in 2019, they may only be 543 Mt in 2030, meaning that Germany will have to emit 262 Mt less CO2 in 2030.

The study examines seven areas of application for digital technology in which CO2 can be saved. The study concludes with an analysis of four areas of application. These are industrial production, mobility, buildings and work & business. Agriculture, energy and health will follow by spring 2021.

First results show: The pace of digitalization will be decisive: If development remains moderate, savings are expected to level off at around 78 Mt by 2030 - equivalent to 30 percent of the necessary savings. Accelerated and targeted digitalization would enable 120 Mt CO2 – corresponding to 46 percent of the savings.

The four areas at a glance

Industrial production offers the greatest potential: Up to 61 Mt CO2 can be saved here by 2030 – 35 Mt at a moderate digitalization rate. On the one hand, automation in production is crucial. On the other hand, digital twins could make a decisive contribution to CO2 reduction. With them, companies can save materials, energy and resources.

In the area of mobility, the figure is up to 28 Mt CO2 with accelerated digitalization and 17 Mt CO2 with moderate digitalization. The levers here are intelligent traffic control systems in which sensors on the road or GPS systems in cars provide data. They can be used to switch traffic lights, redirect traffic flows or strengthen public transport systems. On the other hand, there is great potential in smart logistics, which avoids empty runs and optimizes freight routes.

Buildings: Smart home systems are already helping to save energy today. Companies also use digital applications in office and business complexes. They automatically regulate heating, ventilation or air conditioning depending on weather conditions or the number of employees present. If the technologies are used moderately, they can help to save around 16 Mt of CO2 by 2030. Up to 19 Mt can be achieved if the spread is faster.

Work and business: Working at home instead of commuting to the office - every day in the home office can make a contribution to climate protection. In 2019, only 12 percent of working people in Germany worked from home on average two days a week. If this proportion is increased and at the same time the amount of business travel is reduced and replaced by video or telephone conferences, between 10 and 12 Mt CO2 can be saved.

What does digitalization itself require?

The study examines not only the potential of digitalization, but also the CO2 emissions caused by digitalization itself. In particular, the manufacture and operation of end devices such as smartphones, computers or tablets, as well as the operation of the network infrastructure and data centers, cause emissions. If digitalization continues at a moderate pace, this will result in annual emissions of around 16 Mt CO2. However, the study concludes that the CO2 savings potential of the digital technologies under consideration is around five times higher than their own emissions.

First results provide information

Practical experience shows that the study is right: a total of 77 percent of companies in Germany say that their CO2 emissions have already been reduced by digitization measures. If the results of the study are to be believed, 44 percent of the companies already use intelligent lighting and 23 percent intelligent heating or cooling. Seven out of ten companies have replaced business trips with Web conferencing. In the manufacturing sector, one in four companies (24 percent) uses intelligent control of systems. Overall, German business sees great potential for climate protection in the use of digital technologies: 78 percent of companies emphasize that digitization is an opportunity for the climate - only one in five (20 percent) sees a risk in it. The companies' first priority (87 percent) is to call on politicians to rapidly expand renewable energies. Almost one in two companies (46 percent) is calling for economic incentives to invest in climate and environmental protection.

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