Silicon Valley's Green Detente

Silicon Valley's Green Detente

This essay is an exclusive excerpt adapted from Kevin Klustner's upcoming book, "Energy Efficiency -- The Future is Now," which will be released in October. Greener World Media will be publishing a series of excerpts from the book on our sites in the coming weeks.

Almost 30 years ago, the President of the United States pulled on a cardigan sweater and pulled down his administration by telling the truth about energy efficiency.

It was called energy conservation back then, and Jimmy Carter had it right when he directly challenged the oil and automobile industries and called the United States the "most wasteful nation on Earth."

Carter was well ahead of his time on energy conservation, but after the intervening decades of steadily increasing energy and oil use gave way to the now-widespread recognition of and concern about climate change, energy efficiency is in vogue, and here to stay. The ideas are taking root across a range of business sectors, in peoples' homes and in policy debates, and momentum is only growing. In the excerpts that we'll be running in the coming weeks, we will explore the ways that companies and individuals are applying to their fields, and the huge potential for change that is quickly coming over the horizon.

From Browser Wars to the Clean Energy Revolution

A notoriously contentious hotbed of commercial competition, Silicon Valley has recently been filled with digital good feelings and agreement over the need for greater IT energy efficiency.

After decades of browser wars, software wars, operating system wars and hardware wars, Silicon Valley finally has found common ground in the fight against climate change. The same brainy entrepreneurs who spearheaded the Internet Revolution are now busy at work driving the Clean Energy Revolution in a bid to transform the fossil-fuel era in real-time.

Google and Intel, for example, recently joined forces in a major effort to reduce energy consumption by the world's computers. Microsoft, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM backed the initiative.

It's a good thing so many top-tier companies are all over this issue. Worldwide IT and associated air-conditioning generate more than an estimated billion tons of carbon emissions per year.

The saddest part of this is that two-thirds of the electricity needed to run a PC and its monitor is wasted because most PC's run at full power when no user is present.

The problem deepens when you realize that only about 6 percent of users enable power management functions on their PCs. If all U.S. offices switched their imaging equipment to new Energy Star-qualified products, we'd save more than $1 billion in electricity costs and prevent the emission of more than 30 million pounds of greenhouse gases.

A number of technology companies are intensely focused on the biggest and most difficult part of Green IT -- the energy-intensive manufacturing process. Chip-makers have been especially responsive here. Intel's new factories, for example, are considerably less water- and energy-intensive. Renewable energy completely powers AMD's new 2,500-employee facility in Texas.

Other technology companies are working on a new generation of energy-efficient products. Until recently, IT equipment's energy usage was an output of its design and development, which was geared solely toward performance and price. Now a product's energy usage is an input to design. Driven by customer concerns about power availability and demands for greater efficiency, technology suppliers now equally weigh performance, price and power.

EMC, for instance, has a dedicated team in its product development organization working to reduce the energy consumption of its data center storage gear. IBM's CoolBlue system bolts a water cooling unit onto dense racks of IBM BladeCenters to mitigate data center hot spots. Dell's Energy Smart server and PC product lines have smart fans and efficient power supplies. Sun Microsystems' Sun Fire T1000 and T2000 servers operate faster and do a lot at once, but still burn less power. These cool machines are hot sellers.

With best practices coming in from all parties, it's hard to single out just one technology company as the gold or platinum player in energy efficiency. I do have to say, however, that HP has been incredibly mindful and aggressive in this area.

HP, for example, recently set a goal to reduce its global energy use by 20 percent by 2010. To accomplish this reduction below 2005 levels, HP will deliver energy-efficient products and services to customers and institute energy-efficient operating practices in its facilities worldwide.

The company introduced select HP desktop business PCs that offer 80 percent efficient power supplies. HP is bringing forward Dynamic Smart Cooling, an energy management system for data centers designed to deliver 20 percent to 45 percent savings in cooling energy costs. It also is redesigning print cartridge packaging for North America to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 37 million pounds in 2007.

In addition to green storage technology that can cut storage array power and cooling costs in data centers by 50 percent, the company announced enhancements to its extensive energy-efficiency portfolio for the enterprise, including a first-of-its-kind thermal zone map for data centers. HP Thermal Zone Mapping enables customers to see a three-dimensional model of exactly how much and where data center air conditioners are cooling. As a result, they can arrange and manage air conditioning for optimal cooling, increased energy efficiency and lower costs.

Like HP, IBM has introduced a holistic approach to energy efficiency. One of the most creative aspects of Big Blue's program is the creation of a global green team consisting of more than 850 energy efficiency architects who can counsel and consult on the design and management of cooler data centers. Recognizing the intense and persistent energy use of computing equipment, air flow management and data center power conditioning systems, California-based Pacific Gas and Electric Co. partnered with Sun Microsystems to develop an incentive program for energy efficient servers.

PG&E announced the first utility incentive program to support data center virtualization projects. Virtualization, which enables consolidation and reduced energy consumption, allowed one major software firm to consolidate workloads from 230 servers onto 13.

We can clearly see from all the energy efficiency activity that economics no longer trumps the environment. We see some of the most innovative minds on the planet work from their R&D centers in Silicon Valley to save the planet. They developed the digital world -- now they're helping to take care of our world.

Kevin Klustner is CEO of Seattle-based Verdiem, which distributes energy-efficiency software to public- and private-sector entities.