Telecommunications networks suck up 2 percent of the world’s energy production—equivalent to the energy produced by 50 million cars—but technologies now in the works could cut that consumption by 99.9 percent. That’s the goal put forward by Green Touch, a new consortium of companies and research laboratories, at a meeting in Paris in mid-March.
The consortium’s prime mover, Bell Labs, the research division of Alcatel-Lucent, began by examining ongoing research in its own divisions and in other companies’ research outfits. "We are all working on programs to improve the efficiency by a factor of two, or three, or five," says Gee Rittenhouse, head of research at Bell Labs. "What was lacking was the idea of how far we can go. When we did the calculations, we found that the energy efficiency of a network could be improved by a factor of 10 000 or higher."
That sort of legerdemain would require superadvanced technologies, such as those that transmit information as the spin of the electrons rather than the electrons themselves. For practical reasons, Rittenhouse added, the consortium will begin by shooting to merely improve efficiency by a factor of 1000.