EFFICIENT COMPUTERS

Challenges and Barriers to Adoption

Challenges include developing more efficient components, such as this LED monito
Challenges include developing more efficient components, such as this LED monitor

CHALLENGES AND BARRIERS TO ADOPTION

While Energy Star computers have been very successful, with thousands of qualified models from all of the major manufacturers, some barriers to adoption still remain. The trend towards ever higher performance, for example, often runs contrary to energy efficiency. Computers designed for graphics-intensive modeling programs or games can use more than ten times as much energy as a typical laptop. Large LCD screens can also use more energy. As a result, while most home and office computers can easily be made more energy efficient, the highest-end computers remain very energy intensive. Even for those computers, however, new improvements to reduce idling power (when the computer is on but not actively processing information) can dramatically reduce energy consumption without impacting performance.

For computer power management, user behavior and education are the most significant barriers. Many users prefer to leave their computers on rather than taking the time to turn them off or put them into standby mode. While all computers have the ability to automatically go into standby mode after a period of inactivity, some users are not aware of this capability, and others choose to disable it. Still others install screen savers, thinking they will save energy, when in fact these programs can prevent a computer from entering standby or hibernation mode.

Large corporations, meanwhile, often ask employees to leave their computers on all night to enable automatic software updates. While there is software available to enable corporate IT departments to remotely "wake up" shut down computers to deliver software updates, not all IT departments are aware of this option. This is a significant challenge to address - according to a recent survey by 1E and Harris Interactive, nearly half of all employees do not regularly shut down their computers at night, and of those, 44% leave their computers on because they believe it to be IT policy.

IT departments also tend not to enable or enforce automatic hibernation or standby after a period of inactivity; according to the 1E/Harris survey, only half of employees regularly using PCs had hibernation mode enabled. While there are extensive technical resources available through the Energy Star program, helping large corporations to quantify the value of energy efficient computers and to identify options to increase efficiency remains a significant challenge.

 

Photo Credit:  Image reprinted with permission from ViewSonic Corporation; ViewSonic VLED 221

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This ultimate efficiency computer can save nearly 70% relative to the Energy Sta
This ultimate efficiency computer can save nearly 70% relative to the Energy Star standard
Ultra-Efficient Computing

In 2007, Ecos Consulting, the Electric Power Research Institute, and the California Energy Commission decided to test the limits of energy efficient desktop computers. Focusing on reducing power consumption during idle and active modes, their goal was to create both market-ready and ultimate-efficiency computers that would still have good performance.

The team started by selecting the most efficient available motherboard and chips - one of the most important steps in creating an efficient computer. They used processors that can dynamically scale performance to match program requirements, saving energy when processing demands are low, and selected components with low electrical losses.

Next, the team reduced idle power consumption by an additional 25-36% by selecting efficient components. 80 Plus certified power supplies and efficient case fans saved about 7 Watts. Using a single, larger memory chip instead of two smaller ones saved another 1 or 2 Watts, without impacting performance. The team also specified a hybrid hard drive, which supplements the traditional spinning disk with a flash buffer, saving 5 or 6 Watts. New, flash-only hard drives, which have emerged since this research was completed, can save even more energy by eliminating the spinning disk altogether. Plus, these hard drives are faster than traditional hard drives, improving performance.

Putting everything together, the team found that nearly all of their prototypes had sufficient performance to run typical office software under the Microsoft Vista operating system, while consuming 40 to 70% less energy than Energy Star qualified computers.

This translates into a huge savings potential: if all U.S. enterprises adopted the ultimate efficiency computer, corporations could eliminate 11.2 million tons of CO2 emissions, save 16.7 billion kilowatt-hours, and save $1.67 billion in electricity costs.

 

EEC chart

Computers spend most of their time in idle mode, and efficiency improvements in this mode do not impact processing performance, so idle mode savings are an easy way to make a big impact.
 

 

Photo and Chart Credit:  Courtesy of the California Energy Commission and Ecos Consulting

This notebook is rated EPEAT Gold, the highest possible sustainability ranking
This notebook is rated EPEAT Gold, the highest possible sustainability ranking
Sustainable Procurement

SUSTAINABLE PROCUREMENT IN SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA

At the heart of Silicon Valley, the businesses and residents of San Jose are at the forefront of computing. And as one of the ten largest cities in the United States, the City of San Jose is itself a major user of computers. So it's not surprising that as part of its sustainability initiatives, the City of San Jose decided to push the envelope in sustainable computing, becoming the first city to require purchase of EPEAT qualified computers.

San Jose was drafting an RFP for computer purchases in early 2006, just as the EPEAT standards were finalized. Even though no products were yet officially certified, they knew that about 60 models would qualify, so they decided to insert the requirement into the RFP. The requirement was a great success, and has been standard practice in the city ever since.

The city likes the EPEAT system because there are many qualified models available, there are measurable benefits, the standard covers all aspects of sustainability, and the requirement is easy to specify & implement. Plus, the city has found no difference in performance between EPEAT-certified and non-certified computers. In fact, the program has been such a success that by March 2008, the city had purchased 1,776 computers and 1,770 monitors. Thanks to their EPEAT program, by March 2008 the city had saved:

• 1.5 Gigawatt-hours of electricity
• 1 million pounds of materials
• 52,000 pounds of carbon equivalents
• 2.7 million pounds of air emissions
• 6,000 pounds of water emissions
• 60 pounds in toxic materials usage
• 2,100 pounds in hazardous waste
• $126,000

 

 

Photo Credit:  Courtesy of Sony Electronics:  SONY VAIO TT Series

Energy Star qualified computers like this one come with automatic power manageme
Energy Star qualified computers like this one come with automatic power management