Five ways tech is greening the Olympics

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The city of London plans to make the 2012 Olympic Games the most sustainable yet, and looked to technology to help it whittle down the initial 400 000 tonnes of CO2 emissions estimated to be generated by the event.

A recent progress report shows organisers have managed to scale this figure back by 20%, to 326 000 tonnes, by rolling out various initiatives addressing the five sustainability themes: climate change; biodiversity; waste; inclusion and healthy living. Here are five ways IT is enabling the five rings to go green:

Converged telecoms

For the first time in a Summer Games, a single converged network will combine fixed and mobile telephony, community area television and wireless Internet access across the Olympic sites. The network will have to co-ordinate 80 000 voice and data connections, 16 500 fixed telephone lines, 14 000 mobile SIM cards, and 1 000 wireless access points. Official communications provider and sustainability partner BT says a converged network reduces the range of equipment needed as well as energy consumption. The hosted voice platform, for example, eliminates the need for separate telephony gateway and switchboards at each venue.

BT has also developed an artificial intelligence tool that creates the ideal network infrastructure layout for a venue, which BT estimates will reduce the volume of equipment required by 5%. In keeping with the sustainability focus, plans are in place to re-deploy the telecoms infrastructure after the Games, with fibre access in various venues becoming part of the national network.

Compact computing

The London Games' IT infrastructure will comprise an estimated 900 servers, 1 000 network and security devices and more than 10 000 PCs, supplied by official computing equipment partner Acer. As hardware had to be as low-power as possible, all the server solutions are designed for energy-efficiency, low toxicity, ease of recycling, and optimised for virtualised environments. A desktop line featuring a 30% reduction in power consumption has been installed in the organising committee's Integration Lab. While tablets weren't even a category when Acer started planning for the Olympics, the company now expects to employ significant numbers of tablets as well.

Active travel

With over 10 million spectators and thousands more athletes and personnel expected for the Games, transporting visitors while keeping the rest of London running smoothly proved a major challenge. The organising committee has prioritised the use of 'mass movement' modes such as buses and coaches, with plans to deliver a 100% 'public transport Games'. The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) is exploring low-carbon options for these mass transport methods, in partnership with Network Rail and the London Underground. There's also an Active Travel programme, which encourages more walking and cycling before, during and after the Games. The committee has set a target of 120g/km or less CO2 emissions across the Olympic fleet, supplied by automotive partner, BMW. It is providing more than 4 000 clean diesel, hybrid and electric cars, as well as motorcycles and bicycles, which will shuttle athletes and broadcasters across the Olympic Park.

Clean energy

Despite ambitious initial targets for renewable energy provision, the London Olympics will not see the goal of 20% renewable energy realised, settling for half the amount instead. A significant contributor to the first goal was a 120-metre wind turbine, which had to be scrapped due to technical factors. There are nonetheless several other renewable energy initiatives in place, to help the ODA achieve its target of a 50% reduction in carbon emissions. One of these is a 3MW biomass boiler at the Energy Centre, which is around 30% more efficient than traditional heat and power generation methods, and predicted to save 1 000 tonnes of CO2 per year. Photovoltaic panels have also been installed on the main press centre, with a similar array planned for the multi-storey car park after the Games.

Green legacy

In keeping with the event's sustainability focus, many initiatives have been rolled out to support the green economy and environmental education. Sustainability partner Cisco, for example, is working to generate investments into the British Innovation Group, a five-year effort to stimulate the growth of tech-based small and medium-sized enterprises. Cisco will develop two innovation centres that will link to similar incubation clusters in east London, to provide mentoring, training and access to in-house expertise. UK energy supplier EDF Energy, meanwhile, has rolled out a school programme called The Pod, which aims to show learners, teachers and parents how to make practical changes to their energy and water use. The BT 'Design an App' Challenge also encouraged teams of young people to think about how they could make the Games inclusive, and design an app that provides useful information to contribute to a great Games experience for all.

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