Green Computing and Energy Consumption

Viewpoint by Jeremy Torr

Here’s an idea – let’s all stay at home do a bit of telecommuting, save on petrol and save the planet. Right? Sadly, it isn’t necessarily so.

Because staying at home demands two key things: 1) a computer at home, and b) a supporting external network (the internet). And you probably weren’t aware but on average a home PC will guzzle up more in a year than your shower heater. 

The shower might use about 200kwh (that’s 3kW, 10 minutes a day), whereas your electron-gobbling PC can use up to 350kwh (that’s 150w for 5-6 hours a day). Even if you leave it switched off, it can be using as much as 15w on standby, making a staggering 130kWh per year.

Then when you look at the internet, things get even scarier. The net relies on remote computing and connections, most of which are housed in server farms. The United States currently has more than 7,000 server farms, with the number of servers they hold set to grow to 15.8mil by 2010. 

Don’t even start to think of the leader in server farming, Google. Second player Microsoft is adding servers at the rate of up to 20,000 units a month (source: The Economist). In terms of energy consumption, everybody is very coy about this, but in 2005, data centers as they were then called sucked up a staggering 1.2% of all power generated in the U.S. at a cost of USD2.7bil (USD$7.3 billion globally – source Lawrence Berkeley Lab). A big part of this is air conditioning power for getting rid of the heat from the computers themselves. In the average commercial office building, as much as 15% of the energy bill is driven by technology-product power supplies. 

Take into account the number of server farms is doubling every five years, that means server farms will consume over 2% of generated power – a huge amount, costing some USD5-6 trillion a year – as well as dumping millions of tons of soot and CO2 into the atmosphere from power stations.

So working from home isn’t necessarily the answer – smart, green computing is. Almost all hardware makers are now realizing this is really important, and designing their products to a) use much less power, b) give off less heat, and c) be recyclable and non-toxic to the recyclers.

Companies like Dell and HP are also promoting virtualisation, where the computer sitting on your work desk can be using one third of its power doing work for the person sitting next to you – or vice versa. This cuts down on the overall number and power of machines needed. They are also building in smart fans which ramp up or down as the room temperature changes – saving on power to the cooling system.

IBM uses water to cool data centers, saving energy consumption by up to 40% and requiring 80% less aircon units. It also introduced portable modular data centers in movable reusable packages. 

And last but by no means least given that 70 million new computers were pulled out of new boxes in the U.S. alone, make sure the packaging is recyclable. If the new green PC you are looking at has foam plastic packaging – don’t buy it.

Tips for Green Home Computing:
•    Don’t check your email on a PC – use a mobile device
•    Never leave your PC switched on at the wall, or on standby
•    Take that CRT monitor to the recycling centre
•    Always switch off speakers, modem, monitor at the wall socket
•    Use natural ventilation not aircon in the computer room
•    Only connect to the internet when you know you will use the connection
•    Get all family members to log on to the WiFi network at the same time
•    Consider buying a newer, more energy efficient computer or low power notebook
•    Surf at cafes where they only have a single WiFi modem

Tips for Green Office Computing:
•    User blade servers that run very low temperature chips to save aircon/cooling
•    Tell employees to switch everything off at night
•    Use smart thermostats in the server room to save aircon costs
•    Use low power thin client PCs that use on-demand applications
•    Switch to LCD screens to cut power usage and save on aircon
•    Only buy Green label PCs and hardware that can be completely recycled. 
•    Recycle all internal paper, and reprint on the back of used single side waste


Also in this eco-living series: 

Green Home Tips - Lighting

Green Home Tips - Electrical Appliances

Green Home Tips - Cars