New, Free Software to Save Universities Thousands in Energy Costs

New, Free Software to Save Universities Thousands in Energy Costs

PC energy management just got a little cheaper: A new program from the University of Liverpool, just released to the public yesterday, offers an easy and affordable way to save costs from computers that are left on 24 hours a day.

PowerDown, a program developed by the University of Liverpool's Computing Services department, was put to work in a pilot test of 1,600 PCs at the University's library, where it saved 20,000 kilowatts in a single week -- £2,400 in energy bills per week, or nearly US$15,000 per month in energy usage.

The university's website for PowerDown lays out the problem, solutions and known issues in a simple, straightforward manner: "We wish to enter a state of significant power-saving on computers that have been idle for a certain length of time. We want to do this without danger of loss of data, and without an unacceptable number of error messages or other unfavorable user interaction. Being a university, we would also like to do it at no cost."

“An average PC, left on for 24 hours a day but used for only 40 hours a week, uses around 17kW of electricity, of which 13kW is wasted," explained Lisa Nelson from the university's Computing Services department. "That figure does not take into consideration other costs such as in air-conditioned buildings, where additional cooling is required to remove the heat created by active computers.”

The solution, the Computing Services department found, can be implemented for free using "simple batch files and freeware utilities," according to the website, which offers not just links to the downloads but also explains two potential problems with installs -- namely that one of the components, Psshutdown, can be flagged as malware by antivirus apps.

PowerDown allows users to opt out if they're running grid applications that need to operate while there are no people at the console, and the creators themselves admit that the utility is less aggressive than it could be; despite a relatively narrow slice of users that the program has focused on, the university found that it is saving over a million hours of uptime per month by turning off student-access computers that are in use only for short times throughout a portion of the day, but were previously left on 24 hours a day.

PowerDown's release follows well established power-management offerings from 1e and Verdiem. 1e's Nightwatchman software was adopted by AT&T last year, and the company said it would save more than $13 million per year as a result. Verdiem, makers of the paid software Surveyor, partnered with Microsoft last summer to release a free version of that program called Edison, which also powers down idling computers.

More information about PowerDown, including downloads and instructions, are online at the University of Liverpool website.