Verizon turns to national lab for energy efficiency

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Phone companies have known for some time now that their industry’s carbon footprint and energy use will continue to grow due to the growth of always-on mobile devices, from cell phones to tablets to electric cars to smart meters. Verizon (s VZ) decided that it could use some help and announced Wednesday it will turn to a national lab to figure out how to cut its own emissions and come up with marketable energy-saving technologies.

Verizon has signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory which, as part of the U.S. Department of Energy, more often works with clean power developers in solar and wind. NREL has done some work on software for modeling and analyzing a building’s energy use since energy efficiency improvement is a major goal of the DOE.

The phone company said it wants to work with NREL on two key areas: running its operations, including data centers, in more energy-efficient ways, and developing technologies that make use of Verizon’s communications network to cut energy use at homes and businesses.

We will be interested to know what this collaboration will come up with and whether it will help to promote segments of the smart grid market that haven’t seen as much traction as some companies and their investors have hoped. One area that has struggled has been home energy management tools. Google (s GOOG) and Microsoft (s MSFT) made headlines last month when both ditched their once-heralded energy-management software and portals that were designed for consumer use. They are hardly alone. Some startups in this sector also have found lackluster interest from their intended customers, be they utilities or consumers.

Now telcos such as Verizon and AT&T (s T) probably think they can create better tools than utilities, and can use their weight to get tools into the market faster than some of the startups focused on this. At the very least, they can work with all these players to test what business models make sense in the new smart grid market. Telecom companies already have the communications networks and some insight into people’s use of gadgets and data.

Verizon began running a home energy management pilot project in New Jersey earlier this year. The company also joined a $17.7 million round for Consert, a startup with a home energy product that connects via Verizon’s cellular network.

Finding ways to cut its own carbon emissions also is a smart thing to do for Verizon and other wireless and cable service providers, even though there is no government policy in the U.S. mandating such reporting. The information and communication technology (ITC) industry accounted for 2 percent of the global carbon emissions in 2007. The SMART 2020 report by The Climate Group said the ITC industry contributed 0.53 billion tons of emissions in 2002 and will likely put out 1.43 gigatons in 2020 if no special actions are taken (business as usual scenario). Through measures such as the use of smart grid technologies, the industry can reduce the overall, worldwide emissions in 2020 by 7.8 gigatons.

Photo courtesy of awoodvine via Flickr

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