HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
June 18, 2007, Herald Journal

Do computers contribute to global warming?

By MARK OLLIG

Did you know that the average desktop personal computer wastes almost one-half of the power that is delivered to it?

With so much talk about “global warming” lately, I wondered if I could connect this concern with computers and the Internet.

I did not need to wonder about it for very long.

Rest assured, my opinions about global warming have not been “overly-influenced” after recently watching Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Well, not too overly influenced I suppose.

I did buy the book though.

It was not surprising to learn that computers do waste some of the electricity it uses, but what did get my attention was the large amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are added to atmosphere because of this waste.

This wasted electricity not only adds more of these emissions to the air, but also adds $5.5 billion in additional energy costs that we all end up paying for in one way or another.

Some of the computer industries’ heavy-hitters have come up to the plate in a show of support to get a new program initiative off the ground.

Intel Corporation and Google joined with Dell Computer, Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett Packard, the Environmental Protection Agency and more than 25 additional organizations as they announced last week the formation of the “Climate Savers Computing Initiative.”

The goal of this new environmental effort is to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by setting aggressive new targets for energy-efficient computers and components. This new initiative will also promote the adoption of energy-efficient computers and power management tools.

The Climate Savers Computing Initiative is setting a new 90 percent efficiency target for power supplies – which if achieved, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an amazing 54 million tons per year. This will also save more than $5.5 billion in energy costs’ according to their online press statement I read.

“How much energy do computers really waste?” This was one of the questions asked on the Climate Savers Computing Initiative website.

They answer this by explaining how in a typical desktop PC, nearly half the power coming out of the wall is wasted, being that it never reaches the processor, memory, disks or other computing components.

In offices, homes and computer-intensive data centers, the added heat from inefficient computers can increase the demand on air conditioners and cooling systems, making the computing equipment even more expensive to run. Business computer servers are somewhat more efficient than desktops, but they still waste 30 to 40 percent of the input power.

By 2010, the Climate Savers Computing Initiative believes its efforts will cut greenhouse gas emissions in an amount equal to removing more than 11 million cars from the road.

This is an equivalent to shutting down twenty 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants, which according to Pat Gelsinger of Intel Corporation is “. . .a significant step in reducing the emissions affecting our planet.”

Google vice-president of operations Urs Holzle said: “We are asking businesses and individuals throughout the world to join with us to institute better power management of their computing equipment and purchase energy-efficient computers.”

The major “initiative” of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative is that computer and component manufacturers will commit to constructing computing products that meet specified power-efficiency targets.

The messages presented to the computer component manufacturers from the Climate Savers Computing Initiative describes how they will benefit by joining.

First, the warm and fuzzy ‘feel good’ message: “As a participant, not only will you help combat climate change, your company will also set an example for your community, as well as for businesses within your industry and beyond.”

Second, the Climate Savers Computing Initiative explains how participation will earn manufacturers new customers: “And equally as important, your participation will help drive the demand for energy-efficient computing devices by like-minded, eco-conscious consumers.”

The third message is what I feel is the strongest incentive for manufacturers to participate: “The corporate participants will commit to purchasing these new energy-efficient products.”

The Climate Savers Computing Initiative web site will also help individual consumers learn how to take advantage of their existing computer’s power-saving capabilities, such as sleep and hibernate modes, which can reduce the amount of energy consumed by up to 60 percent.

I use the hibernation mode on my home computer.

When you put your computer into hibernation, everything in the computer memory is saved on your hard disk, and your computer is switched off. When you turn the computer back on, all programs and documents that were open when you turned the computer off are now restored on the desktop.

The Climate Savers Computing Initiative’s energy efficiency benchmarks will initially follow the Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) Energy Star guidelines. These “efficiency benchmarks” will be increasing during the next several years. The initiative would require a minimum power efficiency requirement of 90 percent by 2010.

To learn more please check out the Climate Savers Computing Initiative’s website at: www.climatesaverscomputing.org.