Tuesday Mar 24, 2009

The Sustainability Challenge: Can the Internet Help?

Today's Green:Net event in San Francisco's Presidio District brought together some of the most informed and influential people working at the intersection of sustainable business and high tech. It was good to see this cross section so enthusiastically pursuing opportunities for improving the environment and their bottom lines while most of the rest of the economy is struggling to stay afloat. I was proud to represent Sun, which was one of the three event sponsors.

No Consensus Here

Kudos to the Green:Net organizers for hosting a wide spectrum of perspectives in the keynotes and panels of this one day conference. The poles of the spectrum were aptly represented by Saul Griffith and Bob Metcalfe. Both of these engaging speakers are big heros of mine.

Both have expansive knowledge relevant to dealing with society's energy dependence. But they differ on the approach to meeting the challenge. I think Griffith would agree with Metcalfe when he said, "Our goal is not to darken the Earth," but he would differ with the Internet tycoon on priorities. Metcalfe, true to his venture capitalist roots, believes the real challenge is to feed the every increasing demand for energy, and he cites the evolution of the Internet as a great reference case for meeting that challenge. Griffith's perspective, on the other hand, places the priority squarely on conservation. I have to side with Griffith, with all due deference to the man behind the Law of network effects, if for no other reason that it represents a bigger shift for society and implicitly acknowledges that there is much that is broken in our current consumption orientation. In an era where some mainstream scientists are projecting the decimation of human populations, knocking our species down from six billion to one billion by the end of the century due the effects of climate change, it's time to consider an emergency exit strategy. Griffith gave his emergency exit strategy in a condensed version of the one hour talk he gave to the Long Now in January, and still managed, in 20 minutes, to convince many of the 200+ attendees that the situation is dire and, crucially, that we (that's the royal We,) have a shot (about a 1 in 3 shot,) of keeping CO2 below the 450ppm threshold where scientist agree we might still avoid irreversible feedback effects. Griffith and Metcalfe effectively sanctioned the rules for the Green:Net conversation: consensus is not required to participate; differing opinions are valued.

Open_Source is a Verb

One of the highlights of the event was the Sun Workshop titled, Open Sourcing The Sustainability Challenge: Technology for Social Good. The panel discussion was Moderated by Josie Garthwaite with Sun's own Lori Duval, Natural Logic's Gil Friend, EQ2's Steve Burt, and AMEE's Gavin Starks providing the subject matter expertise. Data was the focal point of this discussion with lots of emphasis on accuracy and integrity being critical success factors for measuring GHG inventories and environmental effects. It was clear that these leaders appreciate the magnitude of the challenge, yet they do not shrink from it. It was also clear from this workshop that the companies and NGO's and governments building these data collection and analysis systems are going to need a lot of computing infrastructure and specialized information systems knowledge to manage the Big Data sets required for accurate and meaningful analysis. Openeco.org was cited in the discussion as a good example of an open model for collecting, protecting and comparing data. However, Openeco.org, and the range of the carbon calculators and GHG inventory tools on the web do not fill the need for a comprehensive analytics system needed by decision makers who deal with GHG emissions policy and standards. Bigger, more sophisticated and integrated systems are needed here.

Can the Internet Help?

Another highlight for me was the Panel titled The Green Web Effect, which dealt with the use of web technologies to create a successful call to action in the green business movement. Much of the highly evolved thinking about the network effects of the Internet that is typified by Clay Shirky's work was abundant in this panel consisting of Moderator Alexis Madrigal, Erin Carlson, Director of Yahoo! for Good, Ron Dembo, Founder and CEO of Zerofootprint, Jason Karas, Founder and President of Carbonrally.com, Kevin Marks, Developer Advocate for OpenSocial at Google, and Dara O’Rourke, CEO of GoodGuide. Alexis opened the discussion by saying, "We didn't necessarily start the fire, but we're trying to help put it out." Framed in that context, he then asked the panelists, "What do you want to have happen out in the world?" I liked O'Rourke's answer the best, because it aligns with a vision I've had for many years. He said, "We want to help people to make better decisions by providing the right information at the right moment." He was speaking of the GoodGuide service, which helps consumers understand the environmental, social, and health impacts of their purchases at the decision point in a retail environment. I've just started using their new iPhone app and am pretty impressed with what they've accomplished in less than a year as a business. I am very excited about the potential for this service when they add barcode scanning capability. I'd also really like to see them add some reputation enabled crowdsourcing capabilities. I'd also really like to help them build that.

At the end of the day, I think it was pretty clear to everyone at the event that open networked systems for dealing with global warming, and energy efficiency are not only possible, but imperative if we are going to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic consequences of climate change. The event was another reminder of why I'm proud to work at Sun.

Friday Feb 22, 2008

If we started today...

I had the pleasure to chat with Robin Chase last evening.  Earlier in the day I snuck past security at the Connected Urban Development conference to meet her following her panel discussion on Connected and Sustainable Mobility.  I felt like a KT Tunstall groupie slipping back stage after the show.  Overtly, I wanted to understand her experience as a Facebook Platform developer, and see whether and how Sun could help her company, GoLoco, prosper.  Covertly, I wanted to find out what she'd been up to with mesh networks since her TED Talk last March.  We agreed to meet at the end of the day.

One of the first things I learned about Robin when we sat down at at Cafe de la Presse in San Francisco is that she is a connector within the mesh networks community.  Despite her successes and notoriety with Zipcar and GoLoco, she has bigger fish to fry with Mesh Networks, and is working hard to build the (social) network to change personal transportation and the way we access the net.   

She is making the case that mesh networks can help solve three major socioeconomic challenges.  The first is encapsulated in one sentence from her TED Talk, "If we started today [replacing every car with a fuel efficient one,] ten years from now, at the end of this window of opportunity, those fuel efficient cars will reduce our fossil fuel needs by 4%."  Basically, she is saying that no amount of efficiency built on top of a combustion engine will reduce our carbon emissions quickly enough to avert disaster.  The second is the deterioration of our transportation infrastructure at the hands of tax cuts and neglect at the federal level.  The third is the lack of free and ubiquitous access to the Internet.

Her vision is an open source model for building decentralized, ad hoc, peer to peer networks by distributing simple  mesh network transceivers in every car.  Once these devices are sufficiently deployed they work as sensor networks to enable congestion pricing and road use pricing models, plus they will provide ubiquitous and free wireless Internet access.

Obviously, some engineering will need to be done in order for her vision to be realized, but she claims it's already well underway.  Maybe Sun can help her in a more fundamental way than just scaling up her Facebook app efficiently.  Afterall, Sun knows a little bit about Open Source models and has already delivered devices that can form sensor networks.  I hope I can help bring another degree of connection to her network.

Thursday Feb 21, 2008

Connected Urban Development: YACCI?

I'm excited to see the launch of Connected Urban Development happen here in San Francisco this week.  It is fitting that Cisco should jump into the fray with a community building initiative centered on ICT's role in sustainable development.  They've been among the vanguard of companies innovating in IT and in International Development since their beginning.  John Chambers, et al have a long record of prioritizing Cisco's role in bridging the digital divide and investing in our shared future.Connected Urban Development

But do we need Yet Another Climate Change Initiative?   Clearly, Cisco can do great things in fulfilling their commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative and help to reduce carbon emissions, but are they detracting from other important programs already well underway to address the same issues?   I hope not, and I certainly will watch this space to see what actually occurs after the conference closes today.  If the list of business and government leaders they've assembled for the event is any indication, CUD is already doing much to help foster the all important public-private partnerships that are so hard to sustain over the life of a long ranging initiative like this.

Among the programs whose mission overlaps with CUD are ICLEI and Natural Capitalism Solutions.  Both organizations have been at this Sustainable Urban Development business long before global warming entered the business world's conscience.  ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) was founded in 1990 to help local governments connect with each other and develop cost effective means of sustainable development.  Hunter Lovins and her posse at NatCap Solutions have made available an incredibly valuable resource for urban climate change programs: The Climate Protection Manual for Cities.  Neither of these two veteran groups appear to be involved in Cisco's climate_change_initiative_come_lately.   Hopefully the connections will be made soon enough and some real efficiencies can be gained in collaborating on development of environmentally sustainable cities.  I'll see if I can run over to the conference at lunch time and help Cisco build their network.  Maybe I'll even get to meet my new business idol, Robin Chase, TEDster and CEO of GoLoco, who is on the conference agenda today.

Thursday Jan 10, 2008

Buy More Pans: Opportunities for Creative Energy Savings Abound

The Demand Response Research Center (DRRC) at LBNL provides a system that enables electric utility customers to automate energy load shedding during peak demand periods.  It's called Demand Response Automation Server (DRAS).  Basically, it takes a feed from the utility whose payload includes data for: Event Pending, Price levels, and Price Schedule.  The system can interface with environmental management systems to turn off lights and raise set points when curtailment events and price jumps occur.  It could also be used in combination with systems management software to automate data center load shedding, but has yet to be adopted for this purpose.   With advanced virtualization and automation technologies, there is ultimately no reason that workloads could not be migrated according to a demand / cost equation.light buld by A.A.

The barrier to DRAS adoption in the data center has been a mix of scant awareness, legacy perceptions, and a shortage of creative thinking.  But all that is changing.  DRRC is on a campaign now to build awareness among all eligible facilities and IT managers about the potential for DRAS.   And the old saw that says power cycling a computer reduces it's MTBF is just that: old.  Today's systems, for the most part, are engineered to withstand daily power cycles well beyond the typical useful life of a computer.  With the benefit of this knowledge and the findings of a Harris Interactive Poll commissioned by Sun, IT and facilities managers are inducing employees to turn off their computers when not in use.  But we still need more creative thinking.

While the traditional facilities folks appear to be abundantly creative with power saving measures (in a DRAS webinar last month, Aimee McKane from LBNL, cited one example where a bakery participating in DRAS bought more bread pans to avoid running the dishwasher during peak demand periods,) creative applications of DRAS in the data center are in short supply.  

Still, the conversations are happening, as Walter Bays demonstrated on his blog today.  If a courageous (and creative) company were to combine Dynamic Infrastructure technology from Sun and DRAS from DRRC they could begin to realize the savings possible in Walter's energy utopia.  Services from Sun and others specializing in Demand Response systems like EnerNoc, can help these first mover companies develop strategies for capitalizing on these huge energy saving opportunities.

EnergyCamp Incites Debate on Solutions

Dave Douglas kicked off the EnergyCamp "Unconference" and incited a heated debate by asking the opening session panel, "Do we need five big innovations or billions of little ones?"

Hunter Lovins responded first, saying we have the technology to get to sustainability: efficiency first, to buy time, then follow the model of nature, strive to produce products locally, at ambient temp, using waste from one production as inputs to the next.  The economics are beginning to make sense, as evidenced by the emergence, in China, of the world's first green billionaire.OpenEco

Adam Werbach answered facetiously, "Kill the experts."  What he means is that the "experts'" legacy thinking is getting in the way.  Grass roots non-experts, in the shape of WalMart employees, have turned off the lights in coke machines in WalMart's employee break rooms (and Pepsi machines too).  Once Coke saw sales dip, they responded by putting up a  "My light is out but it's cold inside"sign, then saw their sales rise while Pepsi's fell.

Ted Nordhaus said our priority is to grapple with inexpensive energy, which is a root cause of climate change.  This will be a process of unleashing human power to change the political reality, he predicts.

Michael Shellenberger claimed that international policy alone is not a solution.  He cites that, since Kyoto, GHG emissions have risen in Canada and the EU faster than in U.S.

The panelists' positions having been posed, debate ensued over many topics, especially the potential role of nuclear power in solving climate change.  Nice to see some substantive disagreement - Sun did a great job picking a panel that would not mimic the too oft aligned community of experts.

More from the Unconference coverage here.

Wednesday Jan 09, 2008

SFBC at OpenEco's EnergyCamp

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition will be doing community outreach at tomorrow's OpenEco EnergyCamp.  SFBC is one of San Francisco's most influential grass roots organizations.  They've been a model for many other urban bicycle coalitions, and have helped change the character of San Francisco's streets by advocating for bike lanes, and helping promote bicyling to events like EnergyCamp.SFBC logo

Biking to the event and using the web to promote biking to the event are two great examples of how Technology can be applied to mitigate the adverse effects of Population and Affluence.

Check out the EnergyCamp wiki to see what sessions are being planned for this "unconference" sponsored by Sun.  It looks like it's shaping up to be a great event.

EnergyCamp will take place tomorrow Thursday, January 10 at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco.  Register here.

Thursday Dec 06, 2007

The Precautionary Principle Applied

I've gone toe to toe with plenty of climate change skeptics over the last year or so.  I felt I had pretty compelling arguments for why their denial arguments lacked merit.  I've become facile with responses to statements like these:

"We live in a world of risks.  The risk of climate change is akin to the risk of Earth being hit by an asteroid."

"Many scientists disagree with the conclusions of the IPCC."

"The costs of taking action on climate change are too high."

Of all the rebuttals I gave, none are as compelling or as simple as the case made by the chap in this YouTube video.  What he gives us is a very articulate and rational application of the precautionary principle, and uses it to effectively neutralize the climate change skeptics' reasons for inaction.

The precautionary principle says that, when confronted with reasonable doubt about the environmental, health, or social outcome of a particular action, it's best to err on the side of caution. 

Several governments have adopted policy based on the precautionary principle.  The EU, for example, banned the import of growth hormone injected beef from the U.S., even though they did not have specific proof of the ill effects of eating such beef.  (The ban was later ruled to be illegal by the WTO - a very un-precautionary decision.) 

The U.S. may be on the brink of adopting precautionary based emissions reduction legislation.  The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted today to send a bill to the Senate that would cap GHG emissions in this country.  This bill is exactly the kind of action that the YouTube chap is referring to when he sets the context for "column A" in his 2x2 grid.  This grid, and the accompanying argument, is something we can all bring to the skeptics that are advocating for the status quo.  Do we really need proof of catastrophic impacts before we take action?

Saturday Nov 17, 2007

Guilt Infused Green

Noah Kagan described the Blended iPod video as the best example of viral marketing on the web right now.  It had been viewed 4,499,819 times by the time I watched it while listening to Noah at the Opportunity Green conference at UCLA today.

He was making a point to this audience of green entrepreneurs that you've got to "keep it real" by making your eco message accessible and entertaining.  Viral marketing on the Internet is the essential tool and is the key enabler of the green business movement.

Noah shared the stage with Günther Lie, Director of Interactive Marketing at Method Products, in a panel interview called Green 2.0 - Connecting Our Community.  Günther observed that the marketing messages directed at prospective green customers are infused with shame and guilt.   I'd say that's right, and, to an extent, is why businesses' participation in communities online is so crucial to the green sea change washing over the economy.  Social pressure on a scale only possible through online communities is driving conformity to new social standards.  The green ethos is coalescing first online.  What was briefly a meme in early online communities is now a code of conduct among those communities with intention.  The price of admission to an effective, thriving community is having a working knowledge of eco and social responsibility.  Businesses lacking the vocabulary of CSR, carbon offsets, and radical resource efficiency need not apply.  You won't get noticed taken seriously on worldchanging.com, treehugger.com, openthefuture.com, openarchitecturenetwork.org, care2.com, witness.org, or the myriad other huge, vibrant online communities shaping our socially and environmentally just future unless you accept an informed role in the cause.

Wednesday Oct 31, 2007

How Can IT Drive Down Data Center Energy Consumption?

This question was the underlying theme of many sessions at the 2007 Uptime Institute's Design Charette, which I attended this week.  But it's the wrong question.  As I wrote in a follow up to the EPA Energy Star report on data center efficiency the bigger question is:  How can IT create value, in the broader economy, that replaces other less efficient modes of commerce and interaction?  In that context, any goal to reduce data center energy use is probably unattainable.

Data center energy consumption is projected to be 2.5% of total U.S. electricity demand by 2011, and it's tracking to double every 5 years.   Should IT managers be focused on driving that ratio and rate down?   That's another wrong question.

My design charette team was focused on Data Center Management & Metrics.  Green Grid contributor Ken Uhlman from Eaton was on the team.  He  posits:  "Managers get things done right.  Leaders get the right things done."  Accepting that axiom, it becomes clear that efficiency potential can only be maximized if we have both managers and leaders focus on the challenge.  Data Center managers need to reduce the marginal energy use per unit of work executed in the data center.  Leaders need to find ways to deliver economic value over the network that are more efficient than current business and social practices.
For instance, how much energy can be saved by services like those offered by MillionsOfUs.com?  Every "test drive" of an automobile in these virtual worlds uses some amount of electricity and causes a puff of CO2 to be emitted from a power plant, but the watts/joules/calories and GHG emissions involved are infinitesimal compared to that of a trip in the combustion powered vehicle down to dealer row to try out cars.

Clearly, IT driven efficiency has been at work for a long time.  Over the last 40 years, global economic productivity gains have been driven largely by IT, and much of this gain has arguably resulted in a net reduction in energy use (modulo the indirect demand for energy driven by IT).  But how much?  And what is the size of the opportunity ahead to do even more?   Studying these effects was a clear call to action in the EPA Energy Star report, but no such action appears to be underway.

While it is critical for managers to get a handle on efficiency within the data center envelope - and the potential here is huge - real leadership in energy efficiency will come in the form of value creation over the network that displaces less efficient value creation.

Sunday Oct 14, 2007

Green+Datacenter (1 year)

I started tracking news about green datacenter a little more than year ago using Google Alerts.  To the extent this statistically flawed analysis represents real media attention on the subject, news of datacenters' role in the green revolution is spreading.  Online news matching green+datacenter has been on the rise over the last thirteen months and has jumped up following the initial six month period.

 Green+Datacenter news chart

Sun's share of the news has increased in the latter half of the period too.  Of the 172 individual news items since March 2007, Sun (represented by the blue line in the chart) was mentioned more frequently and in some periods dominated the news wire.  This is probably a reflection of PR dollars spent as much as it represents newsworthiness of Sun's efforts in this area.  Still, it's nice to see word getting out that Sun is at the center of this conversation. 

Tuesday Aug 14, 2007

EPA see $4B in electricity saving for the data center

The U.S. EPA Energy Star Program released a report on server and data center efficiency(PDF) this month.  The study was in response to Public Law 109–431(PDF), which required EPA to analyze "the rapid growth and energy consumption of computer data centers by the Federal Government and private enterprise".   The Law goes on to say, "It is the sense of Congress that it is in the best interest of the U.S. for purchasers of computer servers to give high priority to energy efficiency as a factor in determining best value and performance for purchases of computer servers."

The increased federal attention to server efficiency is good news for Sun, particularly in light of the recently announced UltraSPARC T2 processor, a.k.a. Niagra 2, which, at two watts per thread, will clobber the competition in most commercial SWaP comparisons.

Where it comes to energy demand, the EPA report keeps the big picture in focus, citing that IT is not only part of the problem, but also part of the solution:

Energy Star logo

"The data processing and communication services provided by data centers can also lead to indirect reductions in energy use in the broader economy, which can exceed the incremental data center energy expenditures in some cases. For instance, e-commerce and telecommuting can reduce both freight and passenger transportation energy use."

The authors recommend quantifying this indirect reduction through IT services in future research.  This is a largely untapped source of energy conservation for which a range of alternatives exist.  For example, using technology such as the 4 watt SunRay thin client, businesses could shift employee desktop computing tasks to run on optimally efficient servers in the data center, rather than the mostly idle 200+ watt computer at every desk scenario that dominates corporate work environments.  Companies could also employ work at home programs like Sun's Open Work, and make much greater use of video conferencing and web meeting software.  These conservation efforts inevitably increase energy demand in data centers, but clearly offset much larger energy demand by providing reasonable alternatives to some very energy intensive practices that dominate business culture today.

Seperate from any empirical consideration of such indirect energy reductions, the report estimates that by 2011 U.S. businesses could shave off $4.1B in data center electricity costs annually just by following best practice outlined in the report.   Considering that total U.S. data center electricity costs in 2006 were $4.5B, that's a lot of efficiency gain by 2011.

Interestingly, the $4.1B potential data center savings is mirrored by the potential savings determined by a Harris Interactive poll commissioned by Sun, for conservation in the office by workers.  The results of the poll, released August 1, indicate that energy-conscious behaviors of U.S. office workers can save $4.3B in energy costs per year.  With a flip of two switches (lights off, computer off,) workers can make a huge collective difference, equivalent to taking 6.1M cars' CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere.

So we're looking at potential savings of $8.4B, just by doing what we already know how to do, with no compromise to services or productivity.  Add in whatever additional energy can be saved by replacing energy intensive business practices with services over the network and you've got a really good economic case for aggressively pursuing energy efficiency in the data center and the workplace.

 Further reading:

Monday Jul 02, 2007

Chief Green Officers

The New York Times ran a piece on the front page of today's Business Day section about the emergence of executive positions chartered with sustainability in American corporations.  The story's headline, "Companies Giving Green An Office," suggests the elevated status of this new crop of executives is a provisional mantle granted whilst the real CxO's figure out whether a separate position is essential to the integration of sustainability in their companies, or even whether the whole environmental responsibility thing will blow over.

In her cursory exploration of the trend, Claudia Deutsche reports that the role has moved from a compliance measure and appeasement of critics to an integral decision making position entrusted with responsibility for not only how to spend money, but also how to make money.  This is certainly the case for Sun's own Office of Eco Responsibility, headed by VP Dave Douglas,  which is responsible for the development and marketing of certain products, including Project Blackbox, in addition to internally facing environmental and energy efficiency initiatives.  I am not convinced that capitalizing on market opportunities is what drove the companies cited in the story to formalize these executive positions, however.

Of the eight companies cited in the article (Sun was not one of them,) seven have senior executives dedicated to environmental or sustainability programs, one (Hilton Hotels) has a subset of sustainability, (carbon footprint,) tacked on to his traditional office, and one (G.E.) has two officers focused on the environment.  The list of these executive positions is summarized below.

 Company Title Executive Name
 Dow Chemical Chief Sustainability Office

David E. Kepler

 DuPont Chief Sustainability OfficeLinda J. Fischer
 General Electric

 Vice President, Ecomagination
 Vice President, Corporate Environmental Programs

Lorraine Bolsinger
Stephen Ramsey
 General Motors Vice President for Environment
Elizabeth A. Lowery
 Hilton Hotels Executive VP for Brands
Ernest Wooden Jr.
 Home Depot Vice President for Environmental Innovation
Ron Jarvis
 HSBC Group Deputy Sustainable Development
Francis Sullivan
 Owens Corning Chief Research and Development and Sustainability
Frank O'Brien-Bernini

Clearly, this is good news for advocates of the environment and for sustainable business, but for anyone who has been following sustainability in business, this article was hardly a news flash.  These eight companies have had significant environmental programs in place for years (albeit, some weaker than others).   Two relevant aspects of the trend were unfortunately missed in the coverage of this newsworthy trend:

  1. What drove most of these eight huge multi-nationals to put meaningful programs in place was brand protection from years, if not decades, of media attention and watchdog attacks that constantly badgered the companies to be more environmentally responsible.
  2. Dozens of other Fortune 500 companies have joined the ranks of these giants, recently adding executive offices focused on sustainability, many of which are responses to market opportunities rather than gestures to stay out of the hot seat.

What drives companies to adopt a sustainability program is not necessarily indicative of the effectiveness of the program.  Both Dow and DuPont, originally incited to come up with environmental policies by critics, are now truly innovating for the environment and helping industry improve environmental processes.  Dow's focus on efficiency led to more than 200% ROI on energy efficiency initiatives from 1981 to 1993.  DuPont committed to "improve the value of our products and services per unit of natural resource employed," and has delivered on that goal year after year.    eBay, Google, and Yahoo! on the other hand, largely motivated by branding opportunity and a sense of responsibility, have moved rapidly to develop energy efficiency programs,  yet Google's solar panels program, perhaps the most aggressive of all undertaken by these Internet giants, will reduce their energy use by about 30%.  Admirable, but not exactly radical.  It leaves one to wonder what they'll do for an encore.

Nice to see the trend covered on the front page of the NYT Business section, but a deeper look into the drivers of the trend and a wider view than just these eight companies would make the article more valuable.  Hopefully Ms. Deutsch will put this trend on her regular beat.

Monday Jun 04, 2007

Leadership in Energy Efficient Data Centers

Sun hosted a well attended Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG) event focused on Energy Efficient Datacenters last Thursday at Sun's Santa Clara campus.  The agenda consisted of case studies, an energy demand management program and a facilities tour.  I'll share some of the highlights here.

Small Retrofit Investment Yields Big Savings 

NetApp Facilities Director, Dan Hoffman presented the results of some very targeted energy efficiency measures in a mid-sized (6764 sq ft.) data center.  The net results of a $146k investment were impressive:

  • Estimated Energy Savings: 1,042,000 kWh/year
  • Cost Savings:   $125,000 -$145,000 year
  • GHG emission reduction:  3.6 million lbs./year (equal to removing 150 cars from highways annually)

And under a PG&E rebate program they were able to recoup their entire initial investment, so the project had a zero year payback.

The key measures, developed with the assistance of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBNL), that made these savings possible included:

  • Supply right amount of air at correct temperature where it is needed, i.e., to the inlet of IT equipment
  • Install curtains between hot and cold aisles to minimize Source Air (SA) and Return Air (RA) mixing
  • Replace SA registers that direct air to top of racks with grills that direct air downward to reduce stratification & hot spots
  • Install array of wireless temperature sensors strategically placed on cold aisle side of racks to enable raising SA temperature (i.e., raise the set point on the thermostat by 2-4 degrees)
  • Allow RA to rise to 80-90°F to enable a substantial reduction in RA/SA fan speed
  • Optimize “free-cooling”effect of economizer by raising SA temperature and allowing dampers to modulate longer to reduce the load on the cooling system

I always hear the question, "Why don't we build data centers in northern climates where we can use the outside air for cooling?"  So it was of key interest to me to hear Dan's experience with "free cooling" and the economizers' effect on airborne particle concentrations.  When they increased "free cooling" to use 85% outside air the particle concentrations jumped to 11 micrograms/m3, nearly double their normal level.  This is well below ASHRAE standards, but still of potential concern to data center managers worried about contamination.   The environment used 40% filters, which is typical of modern data centers.  It was estimated that the particle count and size could be reduced significantly (over 50%) by replacing the 40% filters with 85% filters.  The energy required to force air through these finer filters, of course, is higher, so may not be rationalized in terms of net energy use.

Demand Response Coming to a Data Center Near You

LBNL Computer Systems Engineer, Girish Ghatikar shared details of the Demand Response (DR) programs being developed in conjunction with utility companies, and gave some compelling data on why voluntary participation in PG&E's AutoDR plan could be beneficial to medium and large IT equipment users. 

The current PG&E DR Program provides technical assistance and requisite equipment to help facilities managers shed electrical load during critical peak usage periods.  Savings through discounts on electricity can be significant (up to $50 per kw saved) under the program if the facility can reduce usage during "events" (project to be between 12 and 15) during the summer (May 1 - October 31).  Participants are notified day before or day of an event, and participants control the level of curtailment during the period.

For most data center managers, the idea of switching off IT equipment during business hours and on short notice, is akin to fingernails scratching a chalkboard.  The mere mention of cycling the power on a server gets a visible shiver from the average system administrator.  But many of the concerns are becoming manageable, and the notion that cycling the power reduces MTBF is dated - most modern IT equipment does not suffer any significant reduction in reliability due to moderate frequency of power cycles. 

In response to the management problem - how to efficiently and gracefully respond to peak event notification - the LBNL folks have developed a systems architecture that can be integrated into existing environments.  The infrastructure includes a Demand Response Automation Server and Energy Management Control System (EMCS), which transmit event notifications and trigger load shifting actions.  The architecture leverages a new SOA standard, OpenADR based on SOAP, that enables a publish and subscribe model.  The payload of the OpenADR messages contain Event Pending, Price levels, and Price Schedule.  This architecture, while promoted through the AutoDR program can be used for finer grained control that can be integrated with other event notifications besides PG&E's critical peak days.  For example, if price exceeds $0.20/kWH then initiate a load shed activity.

State of The Art - Sun's New Santa Clara Labs

Mechanical Plant

When I first met the distinguished LBNL Engineer Bill Tschudi at this meeting, he said, "You guys are doing some great stuff, but why aren't you using free cooling in your new rooms?"  Good question, Bill.  I don't know, but I suspect it has something to do with the somewhat unique mixed use environments that are characteristic of the new labs being built in Building 12 on the Santa Clara campus. 

As Dean Nelson, Sun's Shared Lab Services Director, pointed out on our tour of these nearly completed rooms, engineers will be working in these environments as part of their normal day to day routine.  For the most part, these are not lights out environments.  Systems engineers and Services engineers will be using these large labs to do everything from prototype component testing to troubleshooting customer problems.  They're designed with ergonomics and frequent physical movement of equipment in mind.  A lot of the space in these labs is dedicated to benches where gear can be disassembled and tested easily.

Two huge cooling towers are the centerpiece of a mechanical plant (pictured here) that sits behind an office building facade just outside the labs.  These 1000 ton chillers use adaptive frequency drives that change the frequency and voltage to optimize the load to what is sensed.  Dynamic cooling within the data centers takes the cooling intelligence down to the rack level, and spot cooling minimizes unwanted air mixture.

One of the highlights of the tour was a look at the Hot Aisle Containment solutions by Liebert and APC.  There were several installations of each, and Dean expected huge savings in cooling costs due to their efficient circulation of chilled air.  The Liebert Solution has a higher total CFM, so was chosen for the more dense lab needs, while the APC Solution with some sensing and adjusting capability and lower maximum CFM were chosen for the less dense, or not always on environments.  Dean's team will be generating benchmark data that compares both solutions once they get populated and running. 

Watch this space for more on the magnitude of savings and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as a result of the new Santa Clara labs project.

Related reading:

Tuesday May 01, 2007

Where Financial Sector Goes, So Goes The Economy

I've been privy to a couple dialogs with CxO's in Financial Services on the topic of greening their enterprise.  They take the subject very seriously.  It is a clear priority for at least one of them, to the point where he is taking direct responsibility for his institution's environmental (in the Earth Day sense) campaign. 

I think we're on the brink of a watershed event for sustainability in our economy that will very soon see the Financial Sector leading the transformation.  Financial institutions are giving serious consideration to products such as ‘green’ mortgages for energy efficient homes & small businesses,  special loans for financing residential energy improvements like adding solar, credit cards with a percentage of finance charge donated to green charities.  Many of these institutions have in-house programs for carbon offsets of employee travel, procurement of renewable energy, LEED certification of new office and retail spaces, and environmentally preferred purchasing.

Why are they serious about this?  Financial Services leaders are influenced by facts like these:
\* Pension funds are arguing for climate change regulation.
\* Nations' finance ministers are proposing policy to promote financial instruments like pollution credits.
\* The WorldBank is moving beyond GDP to include natural resources in valuing nations' wealth.
\* Morgan Stanley tracks energy consumption and GHG emissions and commits to reducing GHG emissions by 7-10% by 2012, and they committed to $3B in carbon emissions credits over 5 years.
\* Reinsurers anticipate increased losses due to climate change, potentially reaching $1 trillion.
\* Venture capitalists invested $1.6B in clean tech in 2005, and $2.4B in clean energy in 2006
\* Economists project that clean energy market will be $220B by 2016.

Sun is positioned at the front edge of this economic transformation that will some day, one hopes, balance Earth's booksCoolThreads servers, Project Blackbox, SunRay thin clients, and OpenWork practice are unique and broadly applicable innovations available from Sun today that can help financial institutions lead this trend, which increasingly appears to have the potential to be an economic expansion, rather than a contraction which many carbon-economy industrialists are projecting.

Tuesday Apr 03, 2007

EPA Gets Authority to Regulate GHG's

Only a day after the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency is “expressly authorized” under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases, the agency has reopened California's petition for a waiver from the EPA's guideline which had precluded regulation of gases not deemed to be air pollutants, such as CO2.  A waiver would allow California to regulate tail pipe emissions and clear the way for 13 other petitioning states to do the same.

But the waiver may not be necessary if the EPA, in exercising its new authority, determines that GHG's should be regulated at the federal level.   This is an outcome sought by automakers because it's their only hope of getting weaker regulation than that proposed by California.   While the ruling did not explicitly direct the EPA to regulate GHG's, it requires the agency to give a scientific basis for not doing so.

The high court in a separate but related ruling gave authority to the EPA to regulate emissions from factories and power plants.  This is good news not only for Earth but also for Sun (I couldn't resist) because energy producers will more aggressively seek reductions in demand for electricity.  I expect we'll see more programs like PG&E's rebate for Sun's CoolThreads servers.


At the confluence of cloud computing, sustainability, and open source


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