Teaching Energy Efficiency With iPads and the Web

Tom Worthington FACS CP HLM

Adjunct Lecturer, ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science

For Climate Research Expo, Australian National University, Canberra, 22 August 2011

Increasing energy efficiency in organisations will require staff to acquire new skills. Since early 2009, ANU has been teaching sustainable use of computers and telecommunications, to postgraduate students around the world via the Internet. In this presentation, award winning course designer Tom Worthington discusses how to introduce students to the idea of working and learning online, as well as the techniques for reducing energy use using ICT.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and ICT


In 2007 the Australian Computer Society sponsored the first national audit of ICT carbon emissions. This found that computers and telecommunications cased 1.52% of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e) in Australia in 2005. This is consistent with later studies in other countries which came up with figures of about 2%. A more comprehensive ACS study found 2.7% CO2e in 2009. The higher figure is likely to be due to the study counting more emissions, rather than due to a large increase. This is primarily from the burning of coal to generate electricity to run computers and telecommunications.

Climate Scientists have recommended a 25% to 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020. This is substantially more than reductions which have been debated in Parliament, such as 5% to 15% in the Australian Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill.

The Climate Group estimated that more effective use of computers and telecommunications can deliver a reduction of 15% in emissions. This would be by using ICT more efficiently so it uses less energy and applying ICT more effectively so that emissions from industry are deduced.

ICT infrastructure can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relatively quickly, without the need for extensive new investment in equipment or infrastructure, as is the case with power generating equipment. However, this requires ICT professionals to have new skills to measure emissions, design systems to reduce emissions and convince their employers and clients to do so. In response the 2007 study, the ACS commissioned an on-line training course to teach ICT professionals how to estimate and reduce these emissions.

iPads, the Web and carbon emissions

There is a general assumption that the use of the Internet will reduce carbon emissions, by replacing the transport of good and people with digital information flows. Tablet computers and cloud computing can use less energy than desktop computers and working remotely online saves travel. But there is little analysis if this is actually the case.

Claims for "green" data centres have been made. Tushar Mathur, in Brown Clouds: Is Cloud Hosting Green by Default? (Talking About Green, 3 September 2010) pointed out that the assumption that using a cloud server instead of an in-house data centre is not necessarily a "Green" choice. The result may be simply an accounting trick, transferring the pollution off the organisations books and to a location elsewhere in the world, perhaps using a more polluting power source.

Green ICT Course

In 2008 the Australian Computer Society (ACS) commissioned a 12 Week E-learning course as part of the Computer Professional Education Program. This program is now part of the ACS's accreditiaion by the International Professional Practice Partnership (IP3) for international standards of professionalism in IT. It is at a postgraduate Masters-level with university articulation to several Australian university programs.

The course was first run by the ACS in early 2009. The course materials are available as free open source in the e-book Free e-textbook "Green Technology Strategies: Using computers and telecommunications to reduce carbon emissions" (Tom Worthington, 2009). The course was run by the Australian national University, second semester 2009, then in 2010 and 2011. A version of the course adapted by one of the former ANU students for North America is offered by Athabasca University, Canada.

Green ICT (Green IT or Green Computing) is the study and practice of using computers and telecommunications in a way which maximises positive environmental benefit and minimise the negative impact.

Estimate the carbon footprint of the ICT operations of an organisation

The energy efficiency of operating equipment is a major concern of Green ICT. The embodied energy and life-cycle of the materials used in the design, manufacture and reuse and recycling of equipment and components are also concerns. Green ICT seeks to inform accepted management practises to achieve efficient and effective business interaction.

Students Teach Each Other

The ACS and the ANU use the Australian developed Moodle open source Learning Management System. This is used to provide forums for students to discuss what they are learning, not just receive content prepared by teachers. This also teaches students how to use the same on-line collaboration techniques in the workplace.

The techniques of using mentored collaborative on-line learning for computer professional education were developed for the ACS by David Lindley. This uses a model of online learning described by Gilly Salmon in "E-Moderating: the Key to Teaching and Learning Online.

e-Book from Learning Management System

The first ACS delivery of the Green ICT course distributed the course materials in weekly segments using the Moodle Learning Management System. This resulted in a large number of small documents where were difficult to maintain and difficult for the students to keep track of. For the first ANU delivery of the course, all notes were consolidated using the Moodle Book Module, to provide a simple implementation of an e-book. The notes for each week of the course correspond to a book chapter. The weekly material is revealed week by week, to prevent students being overwhelmed by the volume of material at the start of the course. But students can read ahead in the book, if they wish. The students can view or print one chapter, or the whole book. They can also export chapters or the whole book to real off-line.

The book chapters were exported to create a free web version of the notes. This version has been selected by the National Library of Australia for long-term preservation in the PANDORA Archive of online publications by Australian authors.

The book chapters were then imported into the OpenOffice.Org word processor, with each chapter retained in HTML format. A master document was then created with a table of contents and all chapters linked. This was then exported as PDF print on demand publishing as a PDF e-Book, Paperback, Hardcover and Large-print Paperback.

The "print" version of the Moodle Book was uploaded to Amazon.Com's e-publishing system to create a Amazon Kindle e-Book.

Producing a ePUB format book for the Apple iPad has proved more difficult due to the lack of suitable tools. This will likely await the next revision of the course material. However, the PDF, Moodle and web versions of the material are usable with an iPad.

The green course notes are formatted as web pages, using standard HTML and accessibility guidelines. As a result the material can be displayed on a wide range of web browsers, on desktop computers, smart phones and tablet computers (including Google Android and Apple iPad). No special mobile version or "app" is required, as the one web version is designed to work on a wide range of devices. Students can read the notes on a small screen and participate in the weekly discussion forums using Moodle on a smart phone or tablet computer. However, it is unlikely a student will be able to research or write a multi-thousand word assignment using a hand held device, so a laptop or desktop computer will still be required.

Research to Practice Via e-Learning

More Information

  1. Green ICT Strategies COMP7310, Masters program, The Australian National University
  2. ACS Green ICT Course
  3. Green ICT Book
  4. Tom Worthington
  5. This document is available at: www.tomw.net.au/technology/it/ipad_energy_efficiency/

Slides for these notes are also available.

Version 1.0, 14 August 2011 Tom Worthington

Creative Commons License
Green ICT Skills by Tom Worthington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.