Friday, September 12, 2008

How green is your PC?

Green Computer, Green PC
The next environmental trend is "green IT". Computers may not produce plumes of smoke but they do consume surprisingly large amounts of electricity.

The computer industry is responsible for almost 2% of global carbon emissions, according to technology research group Gartner, mainly from PCs, servers and cooling systems.

Google has more than 500000 servers in 40 data centres. It has never revealed how much greenhouse gas it generates, but the global Internet company says it now offsets this through a mixture of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency and other projects.

Google is not alone in switching to green IT. SA companies are close behind in finding more energy-efficient ways of minimising the effect of technology usage on the environment.

“It’s not only factories that have to become more energy efficient, it’s a whole supply-chain issue,” says Sasol environmental team manager Fred Goede. Goede, who was part of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, says energy efficiency is one of the few ways to address climate change and the energy shortages SA is facing.

Goede says it takes years for power stations to be built, but the need to construct them is reduced if power consumption can be cut. Becoming a green-orientated company may be in fashion, but local firms have discovered it is not that simple when it comes to technology.

“It’s not easy to motivate for energy efficiency,” says Telkom’s Melanie Kockott. The returns on investing in energy-savings schemes are not great and they often have to be sold as long-term investments. Large companies’ dependence on computers have made it difficult for them to reduc electricity consumption.

Banking computer systems have to be up 99,99% of the time. “A lot of computing power is needed and it needs to be guaranteed,” says Absa Capital chief information officer Ian Kriegler.

Despite these challenges, Kriegler says when Absa Capital moved to a new building in Johannesburg it introduced energy-efficient measures. It has even separated the heat-generating central processing units from its trading desks, so they can be water-cooled.

Standard Bank has implemented similar measures at its new Midrand data centre, but says there is no single solution to reducing energy consumption. Standard Bank’s data centre uses a mixture of air-and-water-based cooling systems.

Derek Smith, the group’s director of infrastructure technology design, says companies implement a range of changes to reduce electricity consumption:

* Having a pop-up screen asking users to switch off their computers if they have been idle;

* Clear databases of unnecessary content because the more data they contain, the more hardware is used in storing them;

* Put pressure on computer hardware suppliers to provide equipment that is more energy-efficient.

SA’s energy policies have not encouraged efficient-energy usage, says Gartner analyst Simon Mingay.

He says that this is illustrated when European visitors to SA point out that local buildings are colder than those in Europe. Stringent European building codes reduce the amount of heat escaping from buildings, making them more energy-efficient than those in SA.

Mingay says the relative cheapness of electricity in SA has led to slackness regarding energy-efficient building codes.