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Finding the energy to switch devices off

How ‘green’ is the electrical consumption by ICT equipment at your school? David Kinane investigates how to save power and why schools should kick the ‘stand by’ culture.

Getting computers, digital cameras, printers, scanners, mobile phones, etc., has an initial up-front cost impact for all schools. Once purchased, however, I suspect that little or no regard is given to the collective and continual impact on a school’s electricity bill generated by this equipment.

According to UNESCAP (http://fizurl.com/UNESCAP) a staggering 85 per cent of the power consumption of the average VHS machine is consumed in standby mode, in other words when it’s not being used.

The vast majority of modern day consumer electronics are designed to run in standby mode when we’re not using them. We have grown accustomed to using equipment that turns off, but not completely. We expect to be able to have machines conveniently spring to life by a remote command from a server or button press on a remote control device. This luxury has an impact upon all of us. A few watts here, a few watts there, individually it might not seem like much of a cost impact but collectively it mounts up and will continue to increase.

One cellphone charger left plugged in costs about $20 per year in wasted electricity. Machines that are on perpetual standby not only cost the school in a monetary sense but the luxury of standby has a direct impact on our voracious national and global appetite for increased consumer electricity demand and the environmental impact that increased generation demand creates.

As equipment proliferates in schools – scanners, laser printers, photocopiers, DVD players, TVs, device rechargers, data projectors and computers – the wasted electrical consumption goes up, too. So, how much of a school’s annual electrical bill is consumed by devices just standing idle waiting to be used? The standby power site (fizurl. com/power) provides an excellent breakdown by consumer product of the wattage consumption per hour on standby. The argument to turn everything off becomes compelling when we consider that for at least 12 weeks of the year the vast majority of equipment in school is not used at all, but much of it sits there like sentinels waiting and consuming.

Of course, many of the machines in school could be turned off each day but a significant number cannot or aren’t for convenience sake, the photocopier being a good example here. Devices like servers and switches on the network need to be running all the time. In many cases these devices are aided in their 24/7 power consumption by large battery devices called a UPS that provide power to servers in the event of an electrical disruption or outage – these devices have to be the ultimate standby power consumer!

The issue of power consumption will increasingly become an issue for New Zealand schools as the (HLW) funding model from the Ministry of Education changes (fizurl.com/moepower). From 2012, the HLW “…will reward schools who manage their energy usage efficiently”.

It would be an interesting exercise for a school to audit the standby power consumption for every machine in their asset register for the 18 hours a day that they’re not used. I suspect that the total would alarm many, especially when multiplied by the forty school weeks in a year.

With so many devices running on standby and taking into account the human factor of inconsistent compliance with the need to switch off, how can a school manage standby energy usage efficiently?

Fortunately there are a number of devices coming on to the market that standby the standby function. These devices are smart multiboxes (fizurl.com/standby). The example here is for a single device but they do come in multi-box formats and I do know of a company here in New Zealand that is waiting on official approval to import these devices.

These multi blocks have a smart chip in them that recognise when a device has gone into standby mode; they then reduce the amount of watts consumed by the device to the minimum needed to keep the machine on. In some cases, the box can reduce consumption on a particular device to one-tenth of a watt – not zero but pretty close.

These smart devices reduce electricity consumption when any device plugged into it is on standby and yet they maintain all the convenience that standby provides, a classic win win. The final point to note is that devices such as these would go a long way towards a school being able to demonstrate to the MoE that they’re managing energy consumption efficiently.

David Kinane is a specialist school ICT consultant and writes for INTERFACE Magazine.

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Categories: Article, Issue 27

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