Utilities have created innovative programs to help their customers – from heavy industrial plants to homeowners – reduce energy usage. Incentive programs that pay energy customers up front to install more efficient appliances, lighting and HVAC equipment have helped cut energy costs by billions of dollars and saved millions of kWh.
While utilities have been at the forefront of providing energy efficiency programs for their customers, they have largely overlooked their own energy usage. In particular, the technology infrastructure at utilities that includes data centers, computers, printers, phones and Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC) systems is ripe for energy improvements. With technology now central to the operations of utilities, the greening of IT can result in dramatic carbon reductions.
As more companies expand their data flow to support front and back office IT functions, data centers are becoming especially critical. This is true for utilities as customer management and billing services migrate to the web. The advent of smart metering and demand response will also exponentially drive the need for and reliance on data centers for utilities.
Recent statistics confirm the increased reliance on data centers. Data center energy consumption doubled between 2000 and 2005. According to the Department of Energy, data centers account for 61 billion kWh and cost roughly $4.5 billion a year. Bruce Taylor from the Uptime Institute estimates that data centers will comprise three percent of power consumed in the U.S. by 2010, up from 1.5 percent today.
In addition to taking up a larger share of a company’s operating budget, IT also impacts a company’s carbon footprint. Because 70% of electricity in the US is derived from fossil fuels, IT contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, IT accounts for the same amount of global CO2 emissions as aviation.
There are many ways to measure and realize IT energy savings. Assessments can include the installation of monitoring sensors and software that generate a thermal map of a data center to determine CRAC effectiveness. There are also simple devices that a PC or printer can be plugged into that measure real-time energy usage. An energy audit and focused installation can form the foundation of a comprehensive plan to deliver energy efficiency results. Changes and upgrades in controllers, backup power, CRAC systems, data servers and storage devices, and the business software systems themselves can all result in carbon and energy reductions.
Despite clear cost, energy and emissions savings benefits, there has not been a rush to implement green IT solutions among utilities. Yet there are powerful incentives to ensure this will be changing. As energy prices have risen, consumers have been encouraged to reduce their energy use – and these consumers are coming to expect the same energy conservation vigilance and action from their utility. Green IT sets an example to rate payers that utilities “walk the talk” on energy conservation. A utility’s green IT effort can serve as the foundation for a data center and office IT market transformation program offered to their customers.
Energy efficiency efforts also align well with utilities’ corporate social responsibility programs. One mark of a good corporate citizen today is a company’s willingness to reduce their carbon footprint. Lastly, utilities will likely be required to respond to regulator energy efficiency requirements.
It’s worth taking stock of your company’s appetite for implementing energy efficiency measures and see where there is room for improvement. Gartner, Inc., characterizes environmental profiles of organizations as follows:
Most utilities, and most companies for that matter, fall within the first two categories. This landscape is poised to change. While utilities have created robust efficiency programs for their customers, they will increasingly be turning their efficiency attention inward, and IT infrastructure is an area where significant improvements can be realized. It’s not a matter of when but how the greening of IT at utilities will occur – and who will take the lead.