Tech's looming battle against rising energy costs

Green is not enough: How IT can (and must) lead the energy-savings charge across the entire enterprise

Lower energy costs with "intelligent" building technology

Activities such as telework can indeed save energy costs, Gartner's Mingay says, but businesses will still need facilities for their people. "If you just displace people a few days a week, and they still have a desk at home and a desk in the office, then you don't save very much," he says.

What IT can help their companies do is reduce the energy used in their buildings when employees are not there. "True, it is better for the world if you stay home to work, but it is better for business if you stay home and don't heat, cool, and light your office at work," says Greg Turner, director of global offerings at Honeywell Building Solutions.

IT is well positioned to enable "intelligent" building technologies that turn off unneeded lights, air conditioning, and so on to save energy. "IT provides the network required to have pervasive sensing and control throughout the building, which can help a company achieve better energy performance," Turner says. "It wouldn't be realistic to install sensing equipment [just to save energy] if it weren't for the fact that IT already reaches out and connects all parts of the building, including warehouses and outbuildings, with wired and wireless infrastructure."

IT already has direct control of major energy-using devices: printers, copiers, multifunction devices, monitors, and desktop PCs. Even when this equipment goes into hibernation or energy-saving mode, it still consumes power. "IT, which has connectivity to almost all those devices, can reach across the building and turn off all the equipment, reducing the 'parasitic' load by 12 to 15 percent," Turner says. "IT can help tie this functionality to LDAP data. For instance, if no one in a department has logged on all day, no one is printing, and the printer doesn't need to be turned on."

Enterprises can take this idea one step further by using the LDAP structure to control lighting, heating, and cooling in the workspace. "Half of the time, employees are in meetings or in other places," Turner notes. "Using the IT infrastructure, companies can understand how a space is being used, forecast likely loads in building, control big mechanical equipment, and make climate decisions, including whether to heat and cool a space or not. When the last person logs off, we know the building is not occupied, and we can reduce energy by 30 percent."

The savings from such efficiencies can be enormous. Bank of America, for example, expects to cut as much as half its energy usage in 3,300 branches using "intelligent" building automation technology.

"Buildings consume 40 percent of the energy we use in the United States today, and 30 percent of that is wasted through inefficient systems, which include poor lighting control and practices such as running heat and air conditioning at night when no one is in the building," says Brandi McManus, global business development manager of energy services for Swedish building automation provider TAC.

Telenor, a Norwegian wireless provider, worked with TAC to reduce its electricity usage from 300kWh per square meter to 100kWh. TAC designed a system where roughly 1,100 workplaces are individually controlled, and only areas that are in use and active are heated. Rooms are regulated with 600 multifunctional office nodes with sensors, while 900 valves control heating and ventilation. Sometimes, only a low-tech approach is needed, McManus says: "We saw one case where there was a small server room next to an office, and they were using the same AC ducts. Doing a bit of duct work saved energy, and the people in the office were more comfortable, as well."

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