Research spotlight

Green internet

INTelligent Energy awaRe NETworks - Making the Internet green

Professor Elmirghani from the School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Leeds– through a £6 million six-year project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – has led the UK’s attempts to green the Internet and improve the energy efficiency of communication networks by a factor of 1000.

The project aptly named INTERNET (INTelligent Energy awaRe NETworks), which took place between 2010 and 2016, has been an academic collaboration between the University of Leeds and the University of Cambridge with industrial partners including:

  • Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs (now Nokia Bell Labs)
  • Avago Technologies
  • BBC
  • Broadcom Corporation
  • BT
  • Cisco
  • Ericsson
  • O2
  • Oclaro Technology UK
  • Solarflare Communications
  • Telecom New Zealand Limited

During the same time frame, Professor Elmirghani has also spearheaded the international effort to green the Internet with over 50 partner international organisations through the consortium GreenTouch. The aim of GreenTouch is to reduce Net Energy Consumption in Communications Networks by up to 98% by 2020.

‘ICT networks and systems consume about two per cent of the world’s energy and have carbon emissions comparable to the global aviation industry. Unlike aviation, whose growth is flat, the networks are growing at 30 to 40 per cent per year. This is huge growth. The Internet and everything attached to it emits as much carbon emission as everything flying around the world. At this growth rate, if nothing is done, the Internet power consumption will increase by a factor of 30x in 10 years and by a factor of 1000x in 20 years. So, to put it another way, in just 10 years if this level of growth continues then it will be consuming up to 60% of the world’s energy and this is not sustainable.

Our research has not only looked at ways in which we can green ICT but has also examined how ICT can green other areas of our lives. This is particularly important as we head into an “Internet of Things” world. The public are not aware as much as they should be about the impact of their internet use. People can relate to aircraft damage but not to Internet damage. The concept of carbon offsetting and flying is understood but how do you get a provider to offset? There is still a lot more to do. Our findings are feeding into national and international government policy and our white papers form the basis of the industry standards.’

Professor Elmirghani was appointed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) president as Chair of a pan IEEE Societies Green ICT initiative, 2012-present overseeing all the Green ICT research in the IEEE. The IEEE, with more than 430,000 members worldwide, is the world’s largest professional association advancing innovation and technological excellence for the benefit of humanity. Through this initiative Professor Elmirghani introduced several new IEEE products, for example the new IEEE Transactions on Green Communications and Networking (January 2017 first issue), and several new conferences.


Professor Elmirghani’s work in greening the Internet has had significant industrial and academic impact bringing enormous economic and environmental benefits. With his team, he has introduced new network architectures, protocols and hardware techniques to the core network, the central wired part of the Internet. This has led to an energy efficiency improvement in the core network of 316x, more than the level required to achieve 1000x energy efficiency improvement in the overall wired and wireless network.

Moreover, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), USA, has recently approved 5 new standards based on the world leading research carried out in the £6m EPSRC INTelligent Energy awaRe NETworks (INTERNET) Programme Grant. This is a most significant achievement, many IEEE standards are very well known and have had significant impact through uptake by equipment vendors, network operators and end users to ensure functionality, capability and interoperability of products and services. For example the IEEE 802.11 (WiFi standard) and IEEE 802.3 (Ethernet Standard). These are the 802 family. Each of the new 5 standards is a new family.

The 5 new standards are based on Professor Elmirghani’s research in GreenTouch Green Meter where he chaired the GreenTouch Wired, Core and Access Networks (WCAN) working group. Prior to its standardisation, the work led to the current world record 316x energy efficiency improvement in the core network, a significant contribution towards the GreenTouch 1000x energy efficiency improvement target. Professor Elmirghani and his group’s work in energy efficiency was recognised through 4 International awards, the 2015 GreenTouch 1000x award for “pioneering research contributions to the field of energy efficiency in telecommunications”, the IEEE Communications Society 2015 outstanding service award for “leadership and contributions to the area of green communications”, the prestigious 2016 Edison award in the Collective Disruption category for work on the GreenTouch GreenMeter and the 2016 IET Optoelectronics premium award. 

The first standard, IEEE P1925.1, is a Standard for Energy Efficient Dynamic Line Rate Transmission System. This standard specifies an energy-efficient rate-adaptive transmission system that can be used to deploy mixed line rates. This standard introduces the architecture and mechanisms needed to enable the use of an optimal combination of line rates to accommodate the traffic while reducing power consumption.

The second standard, IEEE P1926.1, is a Standard for a Functional Architecture of Distributed Energy Efficient Big Data Processing. This standard specifies a functional architecture that supports the energy-efficient transmission and processing of large volumes of data, starting at processing nodes close to the data source, with significant processing resources provided at centralised data centers.

The third standard, IEEE P1927.1, is a Standard for Services Provided by the Energy-efficient Orchestration and Management of Virtualised Distributed Data Centers Interconnected by a Virtualised Network. This standard specifies an architecture for a service composed of distributed data centers interconnected by a network. It specifies the interfaces and the dynamic orchestration and management mechanisms for energy-efficient allocation of resources from data centers and network.

The fourth standard, IEEE P1928.1, is a Standard for a Mechanism for Energy Efficient Virtual Machine Placement. This standard specifies an algorithm for energy-efficient virtual machine placement strategies considering network and computational power consumption. It also considers the geographic distribution of user demand.

Finally, IEEE P1929.1 is An Architectural Framework for Energy Efficient Content Distribution which specifies a framework for designing energy efficient content distribution services, such as migration, placement, and replication, over networks.

Professor Elmirghani said, “I am delighted that our work in the INTERNET project has led to worldwide impact through GreenTouch, but more significantly now through these 5 new IEEE standards. I am looking forward to working with colleagues in industry and academia over the coming years to maximise the impact of these standards. I am also delighted that we are able to contribute to the next Research Excellence Framework in this way.”

More details about the standards can be found on the IEEE Standards Association website


In recognition of this pioneering work, and its global impact and reach, Professor Elmirghani has received three prestigious awards:

  • The 2015 GreenTouch 1000x Award – given out biannually to a GreenTouch member for leadership in the creation, the organisation and the promotion of the GreenTouch consortium and pioneering research contributions to the field of energy efficiency in telecommunications.
  • The 2016 Edison Award – an annual, global competition honouring excellence in new product and service development, marketing, human-centred design, and innovation. Winners represent ‘game-changing’ products, services, excellence and leadership in innovation around four criteria: Concept, Value, Delivery and Impact. The work on the GreenTouch GreenMeter was awarded under the ‘Collective Disruption’ Category.
  • The 2015 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Communications Society Comsoc outstanding service award for  leadership and contributions to the area of green communications.

Feeding into Research and Teaching

The project has fed directly into daily research and teaching at the University. Two new modules have been created and are now offered on the Digital Communications Networks MSc and the Mobile Computing and Communications Networks MSc. Many students completing their final year MEng and MSc projects have worked on elements of this research and have worked alongside postdocs and companies.

The research group itself at the University of Leeds currently has 20 PhD students and five post-docs. The INTERNET project research team won the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) 2016 Premium Award for Best Paper in IET Optoelectronics. They were also recognised over the past 5 years in the School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering through 4 Carter best PhD thesis awards (X. Dong, A. Lawey, F. Alsaadi and M. Hafeez) and 3 Carter best paper awards (L. Nonde, A. Lawey and A. Hussein). Two academics have also seen career progression following their work on the project.


Much of the research has been conducted in new £2m state-of-the-art laboratories at the University of Leeds. These were funded by grants and subsequently match funded by the University.