2.8 Million Percent

2.8 million percent is how much more energy efficient computing technology (in terms of watt consumed per calculation/second) has become since 1976.  Compare that to the 40 percent gain in overall miles per gallon (mpg) efficiency for the U.S. automobile fleet over the same period of time.  Divide the energy efficiency gains made in computing by U.S. automobile mpg and you'll come up with 71,000x.  Put it another way, energy efficiency for computing lapped U.S. automotive efficiency gains 71,000 times over the past twenty years. 

This staggering statistic is just one of many findings in the report titled, Semiconductor Technologies: The Potential to Revolutionize U.S. Energy Productivity, released by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) last week.

Here are a few more energy and environmental impacts for the U.S. that the ACEEE study discovered as a result of the massive rise in information and communication technology (ICT) in the U.S. over the last quarter century:

  • 20 percent less energy used in 2006 than the 20-year prediction made in 1976.
  • Equivalent to 184 average-sized power plants avoided

And for the next quarter century (to the year 2030), as our economy matures into the age of ICT, we can expect:

  • 27 percent less energy use than what's currently forecasted by the Dept. of Energy
  • 11 percent less energy than what we used in 2008 (absolute reduction!)
  • 383 million metric tons GHG reduction (equivalent to taking 70+ million cars off the road)

All the while seeing the U.S. expand at least by 70 percent!

Computers and "mainframes" (now generally referred to as "data centers") are just a part of the overall ICT economy.  The ACEEE report also reveals numerous benefits that ICT has brought to the electric power industry including utility 'smart' grid technologies and automating electricity grid connection for variable output renewable energy.

From a similar thread in the world of high tech, we're witnessing more and more applications for semiconductor technology in cell phones, televisions, DVD players, programmable thermostats, and yes, even our automobiles.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) picked up on the topic of the growing influence of the ICT economy in its report, Gadgets and Gigawatts.  The IEA study looked at both developed economies such as the U.S. and Western Europe and developing economies, where some 4+ billion people are expected to enter into the ICT economy as cell phones, personal computers, televisions, and other electronically powered "gadgets" get introduced. 


  • What does this mean for answering our call for 80% reduction in global greenhouse gases by 2050?
  • Can we hope for another 2.8 million percent increase in energy efficiency and resulting gains in economic productivity?
  • And can we foster an international exchange whereby we 'leapfrog' the incremental technology developments for our fellow humans in developing countries to help them lead healthier and more productive lives?

Borrowing from NRDC's emerging motto, yes, "it can be done" with ICT enabling much of the gains.

About the Authors

Pierre Bull

Policy Analyst, Energy & Transportation program

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