Posts

Since I wrote about receiving a Kill-A-Watt for Christmas last year (see blog post “Kill-A-What?”) I have been bombarded with a slew of inquiries about our progress. (OK, really, one guy asked! But I didn’t even know he was a reader, so it was still cool. Thanks Mark!)

You may recall that I was driving my wife crazy by plugging in the Kill-A-Watt, seeing how much power the device was “stealing”, and then shutting it off. We now have power strips all over the house. In that way we can shut off things like the TV, but leave the cable box with the DVR powered up so we don’t miss Lost; or I can power down my home office but leave the printer and the print server active (yes I AM a geek and we have a home network with more computers than people!). We learned (uh, I learned) don’t shut the power off to the cable box in the bedroom, it takes 10 minutes to reboot and by the time its ready, Letterman is done with his monologue.

So how are we doing? Over the last three months we have reduced our monthly kilowatt usage by almost 17% when compared against the average of the last four years (weather corrected, of course). That’s pretty good, I think. It equates to about a 12% reduction in our bills. Rates have gone up. Oh, wait, let me correct that. Rates have not gone up (they are quite proud of that) but a bunch of extra fees have been added on top of the rates.

My goal was to reach 20% so that we would offset the 20% surcharge we pay to have 100% Green Energy. While I haven’t quite made it to that level yet, it is in reach. I think wrapping the main heat duct in the basement (it’s the warmest room in the house) and wrapping the hot water pipes might push us over the top.

Meanwhile, its spring and my mind has turned to our yard and yard work. I recently purchased a (used) Neuton Lawnmower. The Neuton is a battery powered mower…no gas and MUCH quieter. It even comes with a trimmer attachment, so theoretically I will be able to do my entire yard without burning any gas and for pennies in electricity. I can’t wait to get out and do the first mow. (However, as I write this it is 40 degrees and yesterday it snowed! Maybe by the weekend!

Other yard projects include a small wildlife habitat, complete with native grasses, plants and shrubs and my wife’s favorite…ground cover for some little critters (maybe those chipmunks will move out from under the deck)! In the meantime, it’s more topsoil and mulch than I care to think about at the moment.

Final touches for this year, includes a couple of rain barrels (if approved by the HOA) and perhaps a couple bald cypress trees.

I will let you know how it goes…but you know, if you aren’t doing anything a couple Saturdays from now…beer and burgers at my place…did I mention that top soil and mulch?

Mention Green IT to most CIO’s and they will talk about reducing the energy consumed by their data centers through strategies like virtualization, data de-duplication or cooling alternatives. Some may talk about energy settings on the desktop, LCD monitors vs. CRTs or maybe even desktop virtualization. Fewer still will go beyond the traditional role of IT and talk about things like building lighting systems, HVAC systems or building plug loads. In fact, very few CIOs get involved in facilities management or building operations. 

 As a former CIO, I think it is time we ventured beyond the accounting systems, order management applications, and website software, roll up our sleeves and learn about the buildings we work in every day. Technology can have a significant impact on the amount of energy consumed in the operations of a building. Let me rephrase that…Technology can have significant impact on the reduction of the amount of energy consumed in the operations of a building.

The popular quote, “If you can measure it, you can manage it,” certainly holds true in the area of energy consumption. This is where IT comes in! Building Management Systems (BMS) have been around for many years now. Typically, they are a single PC connected to the HVAC system that lets the technicians control the operation of the equipment. Some systems take it a step further and connect the building systems back to a central server that gathers the data, sends out alerts, and provides some reporting on the information. This has given birth to middleware applications that warehouse the data and provide analytics and additional insight into the information. Many of these systems have roots from the equipment manufacturer themselves. This has led to multiple standards, multiple formats and disparate systems that don’t communicate well with each other. As more devices become IP-enabled (lights, window shades, water systems, and yes, even paper towel dispensers) this issue will continue to grow.

This provides an incredible opportunity for IT help the business harness all of these systems and their data and drive costs out of the business. Every dollar saved through energy reductions has a direct impact on the bottom line results of the business. Whether you are a tenant in a building, the building manager or the building owner energy reductions can generate substantial savings, and, in the case of the building owner, increase the value of your asset.

CIOs and IT departments everywhere recently received a huge assist from networking giant, Cisco. They recently announced the launch of a new application, EnergyWise. EnergyWise will reside on Cisco switches and provide the capability to capture energy data from devices connected to the switch and, more importantly, they will be able to control the energy used by the devices connected to the switch. Initially, the management and control will be for devices that are powered by the switch using Power Over Ethernet (POE) technology. Subsequent phases will extend to Non-POE devices and building management systems.

This puts the CIO on center stage and gives him or her the ability to remove thousands of dollars of cost from the company. Remember the IBM commercial about green IT? How much did we spend on energy last year? The opportunity is enormous!

A friend of mine from Paris sent me an article that recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times (no, I normally don’t receive my U.S. news from France… just another indicator that the world is flat!): “Flat-screen TVs to Face Energy-Efficiency Rules” (http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-tv3-2009jan03,0,2869589.story). The article describes the reaction of the consumer electronics industry to the proposed regulations to limit the TVs retailers are able to sell: only those sets consuming power under a certain limit will be allowed to be stocked. While these regulations have not been adopted by the state of California, it is very likely that they will be before mid-year. The industry is opposed… it will lead to higher consumer costs, it will lead to lower sales, it will lead to fewer jobs, it will lead to lower sales tax revenue for the state.  Sounds like a familiar argument? They go on to say that consumer demand will drive the innovations anyway, so why regulate it? Anyone remember the gas crisis of the 70’s? 

Another example is the movement toward green building concepts. Buildings are one of the largest consumers of power in this country, and rank above the automobile on the amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere. Yet, there are still many builders today that build to the building codes and nothing more. Some of the excuses are the same ones given by the consumer electronics industry, or the auto industry or the energy industry.

This energy crisis is real. It doesn’t matter if you are a disciple of Al Gore or a follower of T. Boone Pickens. The problem is here to stay and business strategies should address it. Your business may be strictly a consumer of energy or your product may consume energy throughout its lifecycle. In both cases, you or your customers will be looking for ways to reduce that consumption.  Whether the changes are legally mandated or consumer driven the impact to your business is the same.

This does point out a very valuable lesson, and underscores the importance of a sustainable approach to business. A truly sustainable business operates on not just the financial bottom line but at the confluence of the triple bottom lines of people, planet AND profit. People meaning all of your company’s stakeholders, including your customers, your employees, your stockholders, your community and in this case government agencies and regulators. If you are like most businesses, incorporating these strategies into your business will be much less disruptive than waiting until it is legally required of you to do so.

The point is that these are complicated issues that are not going to be solved by only looking to the financial bottom line. It has to be an integrated approach that uses input from all stakeholders. In this difficult financial economy, looking out beyond the next payroll feels like science fiction. But we have to continually project ourselves 3, 5, 7, 30, even 50 years ahead as we plan strategy. We need to continue to evolve our businesses. Those that can and do will sustain. Those that don’t will simply cease to exist.