Tuesday Jun 30, 2009

Yahoo!: Take the Next Step!

Yahoo! has been in the news with its new plans for an energy efficient datacenter in upstate NY, along with plans to discontinue purchasing carbon offsets.

First, nice to see Yahoo! join the ranks of those who find they can do more for the climate by investing in their own GHG reduction, rather than buying carbon offsets and investing in others.

Second, the article mentions that Yahoo! may patent their datacenter design. (Note: getting a patent doesn't mean you can't give it away - the question is whether they will share the work or not). If they really want to do something for the climate they will give the design away - let others do the same thing! We've published our green datacenter plans on the Internet in hopes that people will copy them and help reduce the overall load of datacenters on our energy infrastructure.

Want to have an impact? Use your expertise to teach others how to reduce theirs!

Tuesday Apr 14, 2009

New, Cool Green Grid Tools


greengridcooling1.jpg

The Green Grid has cool new tools and maps for datacenter efficiency:

  • Fresh air cooling map of North America (shown above)
  • Water side cooling map of North America
  • Free cooling calculation tool

The image above is a snapshot of the fresh air cooling map

All of them are here. Green Grid members have access to the higher res versions. Great job, Green Grid!

Friday Feb 27, 2009

Your Cost of Carbon

It appears that the Obama administration is getting closer and closer to implementing some sort of GHG cap and trade system, since the WSJ and others are reporting that the proposed budget is counting on revenues from the sale of allowances.

You may read these articles and see numbers in the 10's or 100's of billions of dollars thrown around, and you may wonder "what is this really going to mean for me?". Let's do some math and find out.

We'll start with the impact of driving a car, which is pretty straightforward. Independent of your vehicle, driving style, etc, gasoline generates just shy of 20 pounds of CO2e per gallon. With around 2200 pounds in a metric ton, that means there's about 110 gallons per ton of CO2e. With carbon at $20 as suggested in the article, if the cost of carbon is passed straight to the consumer (more on this below), then added cost per gallon from the carbon cost is $0.18. This is an interesting number for those of us here in Massachusetts, since its close to the $0.19 increase in state gas taxes that the Governor is considering, and would put the total "tax" on gas in Mass at $0.60/gallon.

At $2.00/gallon, the $0.18 is just shy of 10% "tax". Based on this result you can see that a $40 price of carbon would be a tax of $0.36, and a $10 price at $0.09. Note again that these results hold anywhere in the US.

Next we'll look at the effect on your electricity bill. This isn't quite so simple, since the CO2e varies by location, as well as the cost of electricity. Let's look at Massachusetts as an example, and we'll use the EPA eGrid data, along with the local cost of electricity as reported by the EIA. Using the file eGRID2007V1_1_year05_SummaryTables.pdf from the eGrid site, we find that the output emission rate for GHG for the New England region is 1350 pounds per MWh, or 1.35 lbs/kWH (about average for the US). With 2200 lbs/ton, this results in about 1630 kWH/ton of CO2e. At $20/ton, this is about $0.012 per kWH.

On the price side we'll use the residential cost in Massachusetts, which is $0.177/kWH (in the top 5 highest rates nationwide, btw). With the high price of electricity and the low GHG emissions, this is only bumped up by 6.8% or so to $0.189. Again, $40/ton is twice this, and $10/ton is half this if you want to see a couple of other simple points on the curve.

As a quick comparison, at $20/ton Colorado works out to a $0.018/kWH hike on an average rate of $.099/kWH for an increase of 18%.

Now remember that all of this assumes that the price difference passed on to the consumer is exactly the price that the utilities or refiners pay for the allowances. It's hard to believe we'd pay less, and likely more. In Germany it was reported by the WSJ in 2006 that the consumer prices rose much higher than the allowance costs (full article by subscription only, unfortunately).

Thursday Feb 05, 2009

Mid-year CSR Update

Today Sun took an important step forward in transparency and reporting by posting an update to our 2008 CSR Report. We've posted this mid-year update for two reasons:

  1. We want to make sure we were holding ourselves accountable throughout the (reporting) year - not just during the report process at the end of the year. Over the long term we would like to move toward a reporting model where we publish timely data throughout the year rather than just once a year in a neatly packaged report. By definition, some of the data is stale by then.
  2. We're trying to sharpen our internal processes around data collection and progress measurement. With some of the CSR reporting being new in the company, if you only do it once a year its easy to talk yourself into not automating the collection and reporting process. We think in the end we can report some data more often AND at lower cost.

As far as our performance to date, I think it's fair to say we are about where we expected to be at this point in our fiscal year. There is some important data missing, data we couldn't easily uncover in time to publish a relevant update (proving the point that we have some work to do). But overall, we feel good that we are on track to meet the commitments we set for ourselves, and in some cases, surpass them.

I encourage you to read about our progress and give us your feedback by using the comments feature within the report. Providing a mid-year report and accepting in-line comments are two of the innovative features that Marcy Lynn, our CSR Director has come up with to make the report more useful and impactful - let us know what you think.

Monday Jan 19, 2009

The Internet's Original "Killer App"

The Sunday Times in London caused a big news splash a week or so ago with their coverage of Physicist Alex Wissner-Gross' comments about the GHG emissions of Google searches, which apparently turned out to not be Wissner-Gross' comments, and so on and so on.

But the story got our team thinking about the carbon impact of common internet activities, and wondering about the impact of each email, YouTube, iTune, SMS text, and tweet that flies across the net. We all have day jobs, so we couldn't estimate all of them, but we had some good internal data on email so Mark Monroe led the team in an analysis of the emissions of the internet's original (warning: bad pun coming) "killer app".

We broke the email process up into 4 parts: composition, processing, and storage. This made the analysis easier and highlighted some big differences in where the carbon loads are. The other big area to look at would be transport (the energy used by switches in the network to move the bits around). That's the one area we didn't have good data, but the time involved in transit in the network is so small that we believe it is much lower than the storage or processing costs. (anyone have any data?)

For processing, we looked at the energy consumed by one of our large enterprise email systems. This system serves over 12,000 employees, processing 12.6 million emails per week. For all that work, we ended up estimating the energy per email processed at about 0.13 watt-hours, which in the US would average about 0.08 grams of COe2.

Storage was next. The same server farm has over 330 million emails stored, with an average size of 76KB and and average age of 18 month on disk. That's roughly 27,000 emails per employee, stored mostly on redundant, highly available spinning disks within the complex. When all was included, storing the average email used up another 0.36 watt-hours, or about 0.23 grams of CO2e. With storage we're now up to 0.31 grams of CO2e.

On to composition. Looking at a random sample of about 62,000 emails, we found the median number of new characters typed into an email was around 300. If the average English word is 6 characters, and the average typing speed while composing is around 19 words per minute, our typical user is spending 2.6 minutes in front of a laptop, desktop, or thin client to compose each message. We estimated the average power draw for these 3 types of devices at our company is about 66 W, so the 2.6 min of composition time would consume about 2.9 watt-hours of energy, producing 1.8 grams of CO2e (obviously it would be less if you only used thin clients, more if you only used workstation-class PCs).

Note that that's six times the amount of energy and carbon produced in the processing and storage steps. But it highlights the fact that the back end email systems are pretty efficient. It's the time sitting in front of the console that chews up the big energy. As an example, the 25 minutes it takes to compose this blog entry on my 32 watt laptop results in 8 grams of CO2e. The same pattern probably holds for Google searches, where the 0.2 seconds the search spends inside Google's data center is nothing compared to the minute or two you spend reading it on your screen and clicking through to several references.

Add up the emissions to compose, process and store a message for 18 months and it totals 2.19 grams CO2e. To put this in perspective, humans emit 0.5 grams of CO2e per minutes by through breathing, so a 2.6 minute email is 1.3 grams of CO2e from breathing. Doesn't seem like much until you consider the total volume of email is estimated at 97 billion messages per day, which turns our little puffs of CO2e into 212,000 metric Tons of CO2e per day.

If the amount of spam keeps rising, maybe this will be our "killer app"!

Wednesday Jan 07, 2009

Carbon Neutrality, cont.

I wasn't surprised the article in the WSJ over the holidays which was pretty hard on Dell for its "carbon neutral" claim. There's certainly plenty of room for skepticism. There's no formal definition of "carbon neutral", and in the case of a company like Dell (or Sun or others) there's large parts of the environmental impact that fall outside the formal company boundary (e.g. supply chain, product energy usage by customers). Furthermore, as the article points out, the questions of "additionality" and whether the offset dollars are really changing behavior are not clear cut (and probably never will be, imho). Putting this all together, the skepticism wasn't a surprise.

Here's a couple of other thoughts related to the article:

  • I know a number of the folks working on sustainability at Dell, and I know they've got some really good programs underway there. Personally I feel like their carbon neutrality claims have actually detracted from the communicating the good work they're doing.
  • At Sun, our position has not changed. We are not attempting to be carbon neutral, nor are we dealing in offsets or RECs. We are continuing to make major investments to lower our environmental impact, both direct as well as in our supply chain and products. We have achieved over 20% reduction since 2002, and have projects underway to take that down much further.
  • Remember, Dell spent a bunch of money to be able to claim to be carbon neutral. How much more headway could they have made in their other programs if they'd applied that same money?

Monday Jan 05, 2009

EPA 'Cow Tax' Could Charge $175 per Dairy Cow to Curb Greenhouse Gases

Report: EPA 'Cow Tax' Could Charge $175 per Dairy Cow to Curb Greenhouse Gases

My question: are humans next?

Wednesday Dec 17, 2008

OPEC Cuts Daily CO2 Emissions by 740K Tons

Today's headline says that OPEC is likely cutting oil production by 2 million barrels/day. Doing the math, that equates to 740K metric tons of CO2e per day, or 270M tons per year.

You can pretty much read the news of the economic slowdown and see the signs of an economy-driven tail-off in global GHG emissions. Obviously we'd all much rather see the reductions coming from efficiency and greener energy, but I'm sure the atmosphere isn't complaining.

Now's the time to make changes - if we can get good practices in place, then maybe we can drive the emissions down from here instead of having to go back up to the previous highs and starting from there.

Tuesday Nov 25, 2008

BICEP: Adding Some Muscle to the Discussion

bicep.jpg

Catching up on my blogging, I wanted to add some commentary on our membership and participation in the launch of BICEP, or Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy.

In the US we spend over $1T a year on energy, so it is a major part of our economy. It seems obvious to say, but energy price and availability of energy effect the delivery of every good and service that makes up our economy.

Obviously energy efficiency measures will help the situation. They should drive down prices and ease constraints on availability. Just witness the effects in the US of a downturn in the economy - suddenly oil is below $60 a barrel again, and gas a the pump is under two dollars, based on a decrease in demand in the 5% - 6% range over 2007. If we had dropped our consumption through efficiency the same amount, we would have had the same effect.

But energy efficiency will only get us so far, and then we're going to need a supply of clean energy. Early indications from the incoming Obama administration are encouraging, signaling an interest in putting real measures in place to reduce CO2, including discussions of cap and trade systems, investment in green energy sources, etc.

So given that, why bother with BICEP? The answer is because there are lots of ways to design these programs, and the detailed decisions may lead to very different results for specific industries or the economy overall. Because of this, we, the BICEP founders, felt that it was important to give a voice to energy-using companies who will have to operate within the frameworks that are developed.

As an example, lets look at a one important decision in designing a cap and trade system. Are the credits handed out based on historic emissions, are they auctioned off, or somewhere in the middle? These choices may effect the ability for new companies to get involved, since giving credits to historic emitters creates a barrier to entry for potential low-emissions options that haven't historically emitted. They also dramatically effect the flow of money in the overall system (and remember, we're talking about big flows of money here). For example, auctioned credits bring revenue to the government that can be used for energy programs elsewhere, but builds the price into the energy economy much more like a tax.

We've only just scratched the surface of this one question, and, more importantly, this is only one question of many. The details matter here, big time.

Companies who aren't in the energy business could look at all of this, conclude that discussing legislation in another industry isn't a good idea, so decide not to participate in the discussion. And up until this year, that's the point of view we took at Sun. However, the thing that really changed my mind was the realization that Sun is already in the energy business, and so are all of our customers. Our businesses depend on the the future, ready availability of clean energy.

Because of we decided to become more active in the discussion, and selected BICEP as the primary vehicle for getting our voice heard.

Its great that we're getting top level movement, but the details will matter. We're all in the energy business to some extent, and its time to dig into the details and have a voice in how this turns out.

Wednesday Nov 19, 2008

Want To Win CSR Awards?

I got a chuckle out of this.

Environmental Leader: Want To Win Awards? Write Longer Corporate Responsibility Reports

Wednesday Oct 08, 2008

A Great Milestone

Today we announced that we have met our original GHG reduction goal, by achieving a 23% absolute reduction below 2002 levels for the US. I'm excited and proud that we made this milestone well ahead of schedule.

As part of the announcement we also went public with our new goal of a further 20% absolute reduction of our global impact by 2015.

A couple of quick notes. First, why US only? When we set the goal we only had a decent handle on our US emissions. Obviously it would be better if this were a global result, but we've been applying the same techniques in other parts of the world (primarily OpenWork and more efficient datacenters), so I'm confident that we have seen solid improvements elsewhere as well. Also note that our new goal is global.

Second, where did the reductions come from? All of the reductions are a result of changes to operations, practices and the physical plant. Other than the makeup of the power that we get from our utilities, there were no additional purchases of greener energy. Also, there were no offsets or other onetime savings. In other words, the changes that we've done have resulted in a "permanent" reset of our energy and emissions baseline.

And, what did this cost? All of the major changes have had (or are on the way to having) a positive financial return. So while there were short term costs, sometimes in capital, sometimes in driving process change, etc, these activities have resulted in a net decrease in the cost to run Sun day in and day out. We're hoping that we can repeat that same kind of result as we meet this new goal. We have a bunch of targets that should have a good return, but we aren't quite sure we can get the full 20% that way yet.

Finally, thanks to all of the individuals and groups at Sun who helped us make this goal. Well done!

Friday Oct 03, 2008

Eco is (still) Ecology + Economics

Environmental Leader today reported that "Environmental Friendliness Not Driving PC Sales" (I'd quote the original study, but getting it to read costs more than a couple of PCs).

The conclusions are not surprising: consumers are looking for hard environmental savings, not marketing. In particular, they want to see energy efficiency that leads to real economic savings. But realistically, what else would they use as a criteria? Higher use of recycled cardboard in the packaging? How does a consumer put a value on that?

Unfortunately our whole industry is not yet consistently good at giving people the energy information they need to use the one environmental criteria they seem ready to use - possible savings in the monthly power bill. While Dell highlights some eco interesting looking advancements on the front page of dell.com, I still find it very hard to get any real energy data on specific PC models. Same thing for HP. (Note: in the server space Dell, HP, Sun, and probably others have much better real power data available for most models).

The lesson here for all of is simple, in my mind. We have to explain the concrete environmental and economic benefits in a way that is meaningful to consumers, and give them the hard facts so they assign their own valuation to those benefits. It might not feel "pure" that economics is the way that most people will do that valuation, but if they make better decisions for the environment, isn't that goodness?

Wednesday Sep 24, 2008

If Only It Were That Easy!

Dilbert.com

Monday Jun 09, 2008

IEA: $45 Trillion Needed To Cut CO2 Emissions 50% By 2050

Environmental Leader has a good article on the report by IEA that says that $45T of investment will be required by 2050 in order to reduce CO2 by 50%. In particular, it highlights the graph which is very interesting, showing 15 of the 50% reduction coming from efficiency gains, and the next 20 of 50% coming at relatively low cost from the power sector. So combined, these two are 70% of the overall reduction, and looking at the graph, can be achieved with near net 0 cost (the efficiency savings cover the added cost of power switchover).

So what's left is a massively expensive effort to convert our industry, cars and trucks to an alternate fuel source. The conclusion of the IEA report is that we would need $500/ton tax or price of carbon to achieve the reductions required in the industry and transport sectors. But wait a minute - the power industry needs a price of carbon under $100 to meet its goals, and the efficiency gains can be met without much of a price of carbon at all. At $500/ton, we'd be looking at an additional cost for electricity of around 30 cents per kWH - are we really going to do that just because another sector is harder to deal with than electricity?

What this graph so nicely points out is that we have three different problems, and because of the economics, maybe we shouldn't treat them the same way. First, we have the need to increase our efficiency. Since this is generally cost neutral or better, this should be able to be done through some kind of incentive program. Second, we need to convert our electricity production, and there's increasing consensus that we can do this at a reasonably low cost.

Finally, our big problem is that we need to wean ourselves of our oil dependence for transportation and industrial use. For better or worse, we also appear to have a massive disconnect in supply and demand in this sector, so we are doubly incented to address this problem. And you can see by the large range of predicted cost in the graph, especially compared to the small range in the power sector, that we don't really yet know how to do this.

So I draw optimism from the left 2/3 of the chart, and am very concerned about the right third. But more importantly, I'm increasingly worried about us using carbon pricing as a big hammer that we're going to fix everything with. We have at least three distinct problems here, so maybe we should be looking at at least that many mechanisms to drive change.

Monday Jun 02, 2008

Carbon Pricing

The Environmental Leader reports on an analysis from Carnegie Mellon claiming that a $35 price for CO2 would results in a 10% decrease in emissions.

I haven't read the report yet, but just at the face of it I'm skeptical when I look at the impact on the pricing and usage of gasoline and electricity. First, lets do gasoline. Roughing out the math, gas produces just under 20 lbs of CO2e per gallon of gas, or 110 gallons per metric ton. So the $35/ton pricing would add $0.35 per gallon. Given the current gas prices, you'd be looking at an additional increase of less than 10%, and much less than the increase over the last 12 months.

Electricity shows a higher increase, but I'm still not sure its enough to change behavior that much. Using 1.3lbs of CO2 per KWh as a US average, that yields around 1,700 KWh per metric ton of CO2e. So a $35 price for CO2 would add about 2 cents per KWh. Average retail electricity price is around $0.10, so this would be a 20% increase in retail electricity prices, and higher for commercial electricity which tends to be lower. This is enough of an increase to cause some changes in behavior, but 10% seems like a stretch. For electricity, however, it would help with the economic case for emerging green alternatives, so would probably do some good on the generation mix side over time.

So when I read the report I'll find out how they get there, but I'm very doubtful for gasoline and transportation, and mildly skeptical for electricity usage at $35/ton. This analysis definitely makes one thing clear: at CO2 prices below $5/ton, there will be no change in behavior.

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