Everyone is currently talking about saving energy, unfortunately not so much in the context of the climate crisis, but out of concern about extremely high energy costs this year and especially next year. At the same time, digitalisation is being driven forward in business and administration. Does that fit together? After all, digitalisation also consumes energy, for example in the production of digital devices, in data transmission or for cloud solutions.
Even if we would like it to be simple: our world is complex and there are no simple answers. This is well illustrated by the question of whether and how digitalisation and energy saving can be reconciled. Digitalisation does indeed help to save energy, as many devices, machines and processes can be controlled electronically in such a way that energy consumption is reduced. At the same time, some applications consume energy – the best example is cryptocurrencies.
Individual Energy Consumption
It is worth taking a critical look at our individual energy consumption first. According to the Öko-Institut e.V., the average annual CO2 consumption per capita in Germany is twelve tonnes. That’s quite a lot, considering that two tonnes – one sixth – would correspond to climate-friendly behaviour. Information technology accounts for 0.85 tonnes of CO2 per year – in relation to the two tonnes of climate-friendly behaviour, that is almost half – and the trend is rising.
Company Energy Consumption
But what about companies with energy efficiency and digitalisation? In June 2020, ZEW conducted a survey among 1,700 companies in the information economy and the manufacturing sector. It came to the conclusion that small and medium-sized enterprises in particular have major deficits in both energy efficiency and digitisation, while large companies are in a better position. The BMWI study, which is well worth reading and also includes the results of the survey, concludes: “On the one hand, digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things, robotics and Industry 4.0 are seen as having considerable potential for reducing energy consumption through efficiency gains. On the other hand, digitalisation itself contributes significantly to the global climate and environmental impact, as digital technologies also consume large amounts of energy.”
In the meantime, both topics have gained relevance:
- Digitalisation has received a decent boost since the start of the pandemic. Companies that do not keep up with the digital transformation will quickly lose out. But digitalisation is also an energy guzzler.
- The high energy prices are bringing some industries to their knees, especially in the manufacturing sector. Entire business models are at stake here. And even sectors from less energy-intensive industries are groaning under the burden of rising costs.
Many SMEs therefore need support in rethinking and realigning their structures. Without digitalisation, little is possible here – just think, for example, that many professionals have come to know and appreciate the home office in the last two years and would also like to work this way in the future. This requires appropriate equipment for the workplaces at home and in the company, data transfer and much more. At the same time, however, the costs for company cars and travel expenses as well as, in perspective, for office space will be reduced – an advantage that cannot be denied in order to save energy.
In view of the labour shortage, it is also necessary in many sectors to automate or robotise processes. This, too, will be more expensive than expected given current energy prices. Nevertheless, I think it is important to continue the digital transformation – possibly with a different focus and at a different pace.
The digital transformation has not passed me by without leaving a trace: To keep consulting affordable for you, I have used 2022 to build a hybrid offering for SMEs. You can find out more here and I cordially invite you to contact me.