Unsustainable energy consumption poses a major threat to our environment and if unchecked, could play out in a number of disastrous scenarios, ranging from climate change to resource shortages.
Carbon-neutral, renewable energy sources provide one long-term solution to this problem, but the effort required to construct a clean, renewable power grid suggests that addressing the supply-side of the issue alone is not a quick answer. Managing demand is also necessary. Initial studies have found significant opportunities for improving energy use by analyzing and optimizing the energy required to run social networks.
SI professor and senior associate dean for faculty Thomas Finholt and lecturer Eric Hofer have received a two-year, $299,982 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the use of social networks to help individuals reduce their energy footprint. “EAGER: GreenSC: Characterizing and Modeling Energy Use in Social Computing” will examine how different communication technologies are used in social networks and how energy use accumulates in technical networks that support relationships.
Social networks are often thought of from a behavioral standpoint, but they are actually deeply socio-technical in nature, according to the researchers. They link behavioral and social activities with a myriad of infrastructural networks that support relationships between individuals. These networks include the Internet, telephone systems and transportation networks, all of which are in turn tied to power and fuel-supply networks, such as electricity grids.
Social networks play a powerful shaping role on underlying infrastructural networks, placing great demands on their capacity and helping determine how they evolve through use. A systematic understanding of the linkages between social networks and infrastructure is critical to effective design of future socio-technical networks because social activity plays a driving role in the dynamics and behavior of technical systems in networks.
A better understanding of the energy cost of social networks and social computing technologies promises to have impact in climate change, information technology for development, and operational efficiency.