What is the climate impact of the software-defined car?

September 13th, 2022

There is a lot of talk in the market about how physical cars and car manufacturing affect the climate; justifiably so, of course. But by contrast, no one is talking about the climate impact of the software-defined car, and of connected car data. It is true that the negative impact of car data is relatively small, but with high projections of connected cars and data usage – combined with ambitious goals to reach climate neutrality – it cannot be ignored. So, what does the negative impact actually look like? How can it be measured and evaluated? And what can car makers and software providers do in order to mitigate it, and help enable truly sustainable mobility?

Measuring the climate impact of connected car data

Discussions around the automotive industry’s impact on the climate concern many crucial factors, with the extraction of raw materials and the car’s use phase usually considered to be the most important ones. The impact from software, such as connected car services, is usually not even mentioned. It is, in fact, rarely even measured to begin with. This amount of emissions is still comparatively small. However, with a larger share of connected cars in the global market, coupled with a massive increase in data and data processing, this must not be ignored or downplayed.

At WirelessCar, we conducted a climate impact measurement analysis where we looked at our climate footprint in the value chain during 2020. Office heating and electricity use, business travels, digital service power consumption; every aspect of our work, our role in the value chain, and what our impact looked like. While there were several contributing factors within our own organization, the emissions from energy use for running processes for storage and transport of data were the most significant.

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The importance of using renewable energy for storing and transporting connected car data

Like most other software-oriented companies, WirelessCar’s emissions are not directly related to hardware. The connected car services we design and provide, however, require massive amounts of energy; amounts several times larger than those of all other impact factors combined. This especially when drivers use these services, and the connected cars are in operation. The power consumption in our data centers, in the cars, and at the phone operators, will then be continuously high. With this in mind, it is crucial that we pursue greater energy efficiency and use renewable energy for storing and transporting connected car data.

The overall efficiency of energy use, including for data storage and transport, is increasing steadily. Avoiding the processing of unnecessary data contributes to lower costs as well as a smaller climate impact. For a software company such as WirelessCar, this means that we need to stay up to date on the efficiency of our energy-saving measures, maintain close contact with key stakeholders, and make sure we use the right calculation methodology. This in order to use energy more efficiently in the value chain, better understand the results of this work, and overcome the climate-related challenges of software-defined cars and sustainable mobility.

Through our cooperation with Amazon Web Services, for example, we at WirelessCar can make sure that we use renewable energy for storing and transporting data. Given the quantities of data that connected car services require (and which will increase substantially over time), using renewable energy to store and transport it makes a huge difference. This both for data service providers and as the cars are used by drivers.

Software-defined cars will require more and increasingly complex data

Storing, using and transporting data are all highly energy-demanding, which means that software-defined cars (also known as data-driven cars) have a significant climate impact. This affects the entire process that makes the software-defined/data-driven car what it is: the designing of connected car services, the launching and continued distribution of these digital services, and of course their ongoing usage while the connected cars are in operation.

The data consumption will only increase further, as software-defined cars become more common and technologically advanced. The smarter connected cars become, the more and increasingly complex data they will require in order to meet the demands of car makers, digital service providers, and drivers themselves. This concerns electric vehicles as well as those that run on fossil fuels; autonomous cars as well as non-autonomous ones.

Moreover, this will affect the climate impact of every company working with software and digital services for connected cars. Therefore, every stakeholder needs to look at the entire value chain, their role in it, and understand the impact of their products. So, where to start?

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Three key factors for reducing the climate impact of software-defined cars

  1. Use concrete figures to measure and evaluate the impact of your connected car data
    What is the actual climate impact of your connected car data? Where are you in the greater value chain, and how can you help make it more sustainable? Get to know your figures, so that you can work with them in a concrete and dedicated way. How much data are you processing and transporting? Is all that data useful, or is there a lot of unnecessary data (that does not generate any values, only extra costs) being processed?
  2. Cooperate with your business partners, and make the most out of your internal resources and expertise
    Strong partnerships and close cooperation allow you to achieve what you may not be able to do on your own. Us working with Amazon Web Services to make our use of connected car data as energy-efficient and CO₂ neutral as possible, is one example of this. Supporting end users in finding renewable electricity/fuels could be another.But ingenuity and initiatives from within your organization must also be encouraged. In the case of WirelessCar, our internal channel WirelessCares is dedicated to our own sustainability work. Here, our coworkers can share and discuss their ideas on how to make our products, solutions, and how we work, as sustainable and energy-efficient as possible.
  3. Sustainable mobility is achieved through sustainability by design
    Smart solutions for software-defined cars should be built-in, not tacked on. Just like with security by design or privacy by design, your connected car services should come with sustainability by design. Doing so makes them more efficient and easier to enhance over time, so that they can evolve along with your software-defined cars. Therefore, all new products and solutions should help answer the question: how does this contribute to greater sustainable mobility?

In addition to decreasing our climate impact, car makers and software companies alike need to design connected car services that actively contribute to sustainable mobility. How to do that is something we will discuss in greater detail in upcoming articles. Make sure to keep following our blog to learn more about the work we do, and the digital transformation of the automotive industry. I recommend that you read my related article on the future of mobility, as well. If you have any questions, you can reach me at sofia.granath@wirelesscar.com.

Sofia Granath
VP Strategy, Product Management & Partnership