0312_Phone line room (Weir). Matt Weir

For most people, conserving energy means turning off lights in empty rooms. But for the researchers at Bell Labs, the massive energy savings lurk in the 1’s and 0’s of the code that regulates the Internet. Based on a new study from the lab, communications networks could use 99 percent less energy with only a few simple code changes. Bell Labs also estimates that those savings would prevent the emission of 300 million tons of carbon.

To help implement the changes needed to save that energy, Bell Labs has formed Green Touch, a consortium of networking and computer companies dedicated to reducing the energy waste of telecom networks by 99.9 percent over the next five years.

The savings lie in programs that separate actual messages from electromagnetic fuzz. Right now, networks use very powerful signals to communicate, that way the signal vastly overpowers the noise. Now that computer programs can easily separate the signal from the noise at much lower energies, networks can transmit the same message at a fraction of the energy cost.

And this development couldn’t come soon enough. With ubiquitous Wi-Fi and 3-D television right around the corner, the scale of electronic communication, and thus the scale of the energy waste, is about to increase exponentially. With easy energy-saving progress by Green Touch and similar groups, we might be able to enjoy an on-demand 3-D movie without contributing to global warming.

New Scientist