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Computers go green

In the 21st century that belongs to computers, gizmos and electronic items, energy issues will get a serious ring in the coming days, Puneet Mehrotra tells more.
Hindustan Times | By Puneet Mehrotra, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 13, 2007 12:35 AM IST

The trouble with industrial growth is that it needs energy – which costs money, an increasingly, hurts the environment too. And, in the 21st century that belongs to computers, gizmos and electronic items, energy issues will get a serious ring in the coming days, as the debate on carbon emissions, global warming and climate change gets hotter.

Global demand for energy is expected to grow 53 per cent by 2030, and 70 per cent of this demand will come from China and India. As demand grows alongside, calls for affordability “intelligent” energy could be the way out of troubles.

If you thought computers were non-polluting and consumed very little energy and data centres the most environment friendly workspace you need to think again. According to analyst firm IDC, roughly 50 cents is spent on energy for every dollar of computer hardware. This is expected to increase by 54 per cent to 71 cents over the next four years. On the other hand, an intelligent green energy data centre means substantial savings. On an average, for a 25,000 square-foot data centre it could achieve 42 per cent energy savings. This saving equates to 7,439 tonnes of carbon emissions saved per year!

The information technology industry is leading a revolution of sorts by turning green in a manner no industry has ever done before. It is worth emphasising that this time “green technology” isn’t just about sound bytes to impress activists but concrete action and organisational policy. Opportunities lie in green technology like never before in history and organisations are seeing it as a way to create new profit centres while trying to help the environmental cause.

Take the case of IBM’s Project Big Green. Last May, IBM announced an allocation of $1 billion per year across its businesses, mobilising the company’s resources to dramatically increase the level of energy efficiency in IT. The plan includes new products and services for IBM and its clients to sharply reduce data centre energy consumption, transforming the world’s business and public technology infrastructure into "green" data centres.

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), one of the world's largest suppliers of microprocessors, has been at the forefront of performance-per-watt project for the last three years. Performance-per-watt is AMD’s way to drive power conservation. AMD’s PowerNow processor helps reduce the amount of power needed to perform a computing task.

In May, computer-maker Dell announced its “green notebook” plan. Meant for corporate customers, the green notebook will also help cut down on electrical bills. In March this year, HP announced the industry’s first business PCs configurable to meet the hardware standards of ENERGY STAR 4.0 – the new, stringent energy-efficiency specification from the US EPA.

Let’s look at how Intelligent Energy applies to electricity and how technology giants like IBM are making a difference in a way it will impact our lives and perhaps reduce our consumption and bills.

The electric utility industry is in an unprecedented era of change to meet increasing customer demand for greater reliability and different services in the face of substantial regulation and volatile energy costs. This requires new approaches and business models to allow greater network reliability, efficiency, flexibility and transparency.

At the same time, the utility industry is digitising, transforming from an electromechanical environment to a digitised one. New Internet Protocol-enabled networks now allow for network integration along the entire supply chain – from generation, transmission, to end-use and metering -- and create the opportunity for Intelligent Utility Networks.

The “Intelligent Utility Network” (IUN) applies sensors and other technologies to sense and respond in real-time to changes throughout the supply chain. The IP-enabled network connects all parts of the utility grid - equipment, control systems, applications, employees.

It also enables automatic data collection and storage from across the utility based on a common information model and service-oriented architecture (SOA), which enables a flexible use of information technology. This in turn allows utilities to continuously analyse data so that they can better manage assets and operations.

The IUN comprises two key components: Advanced Meter Management (AMM) and Network Automation and Analytics (NAA). These capabilities afford many benefits, including more accurate metering in real-time and fewer power outages through automatic network monitoring and load balancing. Utilities gain greater flexibility and resiliency with this newly accessible information, providing a understanding of customers’ needs and how those needs impact the infrastructure.

By 2010, at least 10 per cent of homes in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the United States will be AMM-enabled, which means consumers and providers can monitor actual electricity and gas consumption without having to wait for monthly bills. The IP-based Intelligent Utility Based network is already under trials. CenterPoint Energy has implemented it in US.

(The writer is the editor of a journal devoted to business and technology issues)

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