If widely deployed, information and communication technologies could help federal agencies meet half of their goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and could save more than $5 billion in energy costs through 2020, according to a report released by nonprofit the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
These technologies include advanced energy sensors and controls, GPS-based fleet management systems, teleconferencing, and cloud-based data storage, according to Leading by Example 2.0: How Information and Communication Technologies Help Achieve Federal Sustainability Goals.
Federal agencies have an overall goal of reducing their direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions 24 percent below 2008 levels by 2020. Through 2011, the government had reduced total covered emissions almost 7 percent, primarily through energy efficiency and purchases of renewable energy, according to the nonprofit.
The General Services Administration has saved money by updating its IT infrastructure. The GSA hosted an outdated email system that relied on 324 servers in 14 data centers across the country. By switching to a cloud-based service, it reduced energy use more than 85 percent, saving $15.2 million annually, the report says.
The Smithsonian Institution had to cut costs and improve the efficiency of the 1,500 vehicles it uses for law enforcement, shuttle bus service, and maintenance. With tools that allow fleet managers to monitor real-time vehicle use and fuel consumption and track and schedule maintenance, the Smithsonian cut its fleet 19 percent and its petroleum use by 44 percent, according to the report.
Despite these successes – and the potential for more saving – barriers stand in the way of the wide adoption of these technologies. To overcome these barriers the Center advocates an expansion of the government’s use of energy saving performance contracts, a financing mechanism that can overcome the lack of upfront funding for energy efficiency investments. In 2011, President Obama issued a memorandum committing the federal government to $2 billion of energy upgrades on its own buildings, using energy savings performance contracts, by 2013.
Other ways to overcome hurdles include forming interagency communities to share best practices and the early training and engagement of staff.