Finding a path to energy-efficient software


Digitalization is a significant contributor towards greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the use of digital technologies is key to curbing CO2 in other industrial sectors. Until now, IT system development has virtually never been looked at from the point of view of energy efficiency. But doing so offers a huge opportunity to build digital systems that consume significantly less energy. To this end, principles of sustainability must find their way into the curricula of computer science courses and must be part of the discussion from the outset when considering the energy balance of IT systems.

HPI has launched the clean-IT Initiative to educate people in the possibilities of reducing the CO2 footprint in the field of digitalization and, in cooperation with national and international partners from science, industry, and civil society, to demonstrate solutions for how to succeed with sustainable digitalization. The clean-IT Forum [9] on HPI's interactive learning platform presents examples and best practices on energy-efficient algorithms and sustainable computing, describing very specific measures for developing algorithms, data centers, and AI systems in an energy-efficient way (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The Hasso Plattner Institute's (HPI's) clean-IT Forum has offered sustainability experts from around the world a platform for exchanging ideas since April 2021. © HPI

Research on energy consumption of digital systems is still in its infancy. As of now, hardly any relevant scientific conferences and journals exist that explicitly address the issue of energy-efficient software and sustainable computing. There is also a need for initiatives that will start transforming research results into scalable energy-efficient software products.

Policymakers could launch incentives to strengthen research in the area of clean IT. This research could be the basis for reliable criteria that could assess whether a digital application is sufficiently energy efficient. International certifications could accelerate the spread of energy-efficient IT systems. Above all, the public sector, as the largest purchaser of IT systems in many countries, needs to stipulate in its procurement guidelines a requirement for energy-efficient software in order to bolster the market for sustainable software and IT systems.


  1. The Shift Project 2019:
  2. IEA (2017), Digitalisation and Energy, IEA, Paris,
  3. Carbon footprint of aviation:
  4. Carbon footprint of digitization:
  5. HPIValid:
  6. J. Bethge et al. "BinaryDenseNet: Developing an Architecture for Binary Neural Networks," 2019 IEEE/CVF ICCVW, 2019, pg. 1951-1960,
  7. M. Qasaimeh et al. "Comparing Energy Efficiency of CPU, GPU and FPGA Implementations for Vision Kernels," 2019 IEEE ICESS, 2019, pg. 1-8,
  8. J. Cong et al. "Understanding Performance Differences of FPGAs and GPUs," 2018 IEEE 26th Annual Symposium on FCCM, 2018, pg. 93-96,
  9. clean-IT Forum:

The Author

Professor Christoph Meinel is the director and CEO of the Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Engineering gGmbH (HPI) and Dean of the Digital Engineering Faculty at the University of Potsdam, where he heads the Department of Internet Technology and Systems. A member of the German National Academy of Science and Engineering (Acatech), he developed the first European MOOC platform, openHPI, leads the BMBF-commissioned School Cloud project, and is program director of the HPI-Stanford Design Thinking Research Program.

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