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Challenging the System to Heal & Green Itself

The first wave will be in the form of Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS) that applies to retail electricity and natural gas distributors. For a listing of states that have adopted EERS and more info, click here. The environmental impact of all IT and Telecom concerns will likely also be in the form of Standards... The ISO 14064 GREEN One that I previously wrote about.Then, after reading Are U.S. CFL's Designed to Make Us Pay More on Our Power Bills? by Steve Windisch, over at Alternative Energy News I did more research because of more conflicting information about energy. (CFL Q&A)

First discovery - Arguably, it's a myth that consumers pay less for energy than businesses. Consumers have a lower KWH (kilowatt hour) rate than , but consumers are billed on a different metric. The method of apparent power and not real power is applied to consumers billing. The difference between apparent power and real power is called the AC Power Factor, and is generally determined in these cases by the phase angle difference between the AC Voltage and the AC Current across a device. (Consumer, Business/Industrial billing - include many rate schedules, and at least two different metrics are used for determining electric usage)

Second discovery - "Power factor correction isn't beneficial since the results can vary widely" according to the EPA, in rejecting the benefits of "Power Factor Correction" and why they will not consider these devices (capacitors) as Energy Star compliant or part of the Energy Star program. Go to the Energy Star website and use the search term: power factor correction and you will find power factor correction in numerous applications. So why does the EPA/Energy Star sing two different tunes about power factor correction?

The facts are, power factor correction technology is not deployed in both consumer and commercial interests, and power consumption is billed differently to each. There are also improvements to utility meters designed to "bill better" or to achieve a greater accuracy in the case of apparent power. If the utility companies were to bill on real power and if the manufacturers of electronics and appliance wares were to adopt power factor correction in all their wares; then individual power correction devices could become obsolete and unnecessary. Not all gear manufactured has an acceptable power factor (1.0) or close to it. APC is already manufacturing and labeling their new green UPSes with the disclosed power factor. Read their "Green Computing" document.

In my previous post about the capacitors we have installed and tested -I failed (Sin 1 The Hidden Tradeoff) to provide what amount of energy the capacitors are using. It depends. The Model 1200 single phase is rated at 7.0 amps or about 700 WATTS maximum, and I had our electrician pull a read (a snapshot), and it was drawing around 4 amps or a little over 400 Watts. So, yes, to save energy, we're using energy (hidden tradeoff), yet still the overall impact is, our billed usage is down. Our usage varies as does the usage and metrics shown for the other gear (pumps, compressors, motors - inductive loads) operating. Until we can minimize the inductive loads, (time and money) the capacitors will remain online since their benefit is an offset as we continue to make planned improvements. The bills still speak louder than the skeptics - our costs are historically down and my tech continues to enjoy significant savings at his home - the technology works.

Commercial interests are penalized for poor power factor. Most power factor correction devices are manufactured for commercial interests, and consumers are billed for power use differently. Consumers and some SMBs do not receive discounts for higher usage. Large enterprises do receive discounts when they use more energy and it depends upon which rate schedule applies. In just one example of poor power factor, some CFL light bulbs manufactured for the U.S. do not have a capacitor that would cost just pennies to add; the CFLs in Europe and other parts of the world have this. These CFLs have a power factor of .55 or less and they should be near 1.0 Just for lighting costs alone - the missed opportunity in savings is estimated by Windisch at $14 billion (USD) annually, and by adding power factor correction capacitors to appliances and gear that use inductive loads (motors, pumps, compressors), US consumers could save an additional $150 billion (USD) annually. So consumers and businesses that buy some energy saving products are incurring additional and unnecessary energy costs; they could save more but are limited by the efficiency of the gear or appliance.

Please note: not all CFLs have low power factor. Consumers and Businesses rarely see visible packaging or labels disclosing "Power Factor" ratings of products and equipment they purchase.

Third Discovery -the Energy Star program is successful and I wouldn't want to not give credit for all the good the program has accomplished. Still, as Windisch points out, it's important to know that the Energy Star program is technically part of the DOE and EPA: a "partnership" between the government, the electric utility corporations, and the electronics and appliance manufacturers makes up the program.

Of course the utility companies can cite the JD Power study on increased consumer satisfaction. Namely, consumers are happier with their utility companies since the utility companies are providing more methods of payment, alternative payments and account access. This translates to customers having more than one method of payment including averaging plans, and doesn't negate the need to substantially lower the costs of power to consumers and businesses.

Disclosure of and understanding how network and computing gear uses energy is important, including any phantom loads that are present and whether or not the gear is GREEN, and why the manufacturer is making a claim that the product is GREEN.

Fourth Discovery -is the testimony and the report from the Federal Trade Commission on deregulated power - the Commission stated that, "competition between market participants will ordinarily provide consumers with the benefits of low prices, good products, and greater innovation." My question remains open about "greater innovation." Where is it? For enterprise and consumer customers alike, where is power factor correction and transient voltage surge suppression? Today as in the past, everyone has paid for losses resulting from low power factor performance and transients from the grid. These costs are staggering. Then, when you add the costs to compensate for power line disruptions, brown- and blackouts along with power line influence, someone should be questioning innovation. Cost is more relevant today since consumers and businesses are now feeling and suffering from the global impact of energy costs. Then, good products or services don't cause, allow or enhance millions of dollars in damages to electronics each year. Everyone is paying for this "good" service.

State PUCs/PSCs (Public Utility Commissions/Public Service Commissions) need to examine and change their ways of thinking, including acceptable billing practices for both consumer and business. Perhaps the manufacturing process will be challenged to correct power factor on their wares too. The EPA could collaborate to enforce the best interests for the public, and maybe they'll engage the FTC and discover what innovations that consumers and enterprises can expect and when. Then, in case you didn't know it -utility companies do practice power factor correction curbside (to the meter). That's their demarcation - and on the inside, you're on your own to prove or disprove any issues and to make any improvements to your power factor and or efficiency. For enterprise users, whenever you buy any IT gear, find out the power factor of that gear, and remember 1.0 is the optimum.

Fifth Discovery - according to The Economist, "71 per cent of over 1,200 business leaders surveyed either agreed or strongly agreed that too many companies are using greening and sustainability as merely a public-relations tool. Companies are not changing who they are/who they are not-just who they pretend to be." For IT folks again, I am going to say that in everything you do, add energy to your lists. Energy issues, solutions, metrics and assessments are certainly going to bounce back to you and you will be expected to be "in the know."

This is another tragic comedy, only no one should be laughing and at best, everyone should be discussing all options to improve efficiency and decrease energy usage and dependence upon foreign oil. The goals of the EPA, Energy Star Program and the FTC, I do believe are good and I don't think there are bad intentions directed against consumers or businesses. The EPA does recognize for example, barriers to EERS; and note what they are:

* Under a cost plus system, utilities' revenue and profit are linked to unit sales. Increased efficiency could lead to a decrease in profit, sometimes with a large multiplier effect, since profit may depend on sales beyond a specific margin related to the costs of generation and transmission.

* Split incentives can occur when one party, for example a builder or landlord, pays a premium for more efficient appliances or building products, while another party, such as a tenant or homebuyer, receives most of the payback in the form of reduced operating costs.

* Lack of information and marketing can limit the distribution of energy efficient products. It requires research to find and select energy efficient products; and planners, designers, and other buyers may make uninformed decisions (including "panic purchases" - as when a refrigerator breaks down) without including energy efficiency in their criteria.

* Programs need to be structured in ways that do not place regulated and non-regulated electricity providers on different competitive footing.

Resistance to new thinking won't win any green awards. Instead, if the utilities, electronics and appliance manufacturers, and government are open for disruption; then they and everyone else should be open for new ideas. Disclosing how well gear handles power (Power Factor) is an efficient measure that educates customers to let them make informed buying decisions. Managing energy is using the right metrics, right and proper billing methods all the time for all the users, removing usage discounts that discourage energy efficiency, and having that key understanding that energy is interleaved in all that we do.

The most notable change, however, goes back to the users -residential or commercial consumers. Reading Carrie Armel's presentation -Behavior and Energy to Stanford School of Medicine confirms my belief that behaviors of the users must change. She also notes that the incentives that I mentioned above for businesses must be removed, and then she keys in on an area that several years ago Harvard Business Review published, about why users don't adopt CFLs even though changing a light bulb is no big deal, yet doing so yields significant energy savings. In one example that Carrie cites, financial incentives paid to users (residential consumers) to carry out energy saving retrofits to their homes are only done on average by just 5% of users even though the financial incentives pay for 93% reimbursement. Carrie goes on to discuss what must be done to get users to change their behavior. This enforces my belief that energy efficiency, sustainability and greening efforts of any organization are less likely to succeed without the support of management from the top. More importantly, as IT/Telecom/technology experts are expected by management to be in the know -this very idea of getting "users to change their behaviors" really goes against the grain of what most of us have been taught.

Change, after all, can be a precarious thing. Consider her presentation and you may want to review page 21; "How the User Thinks." These changes of user behavior, as she argues, will have significant impact above what we do with technology to influence change in the energy arena of sustainability. Even if Carrie is proven right and users do change their behavior, there remain plenty of other changes to go around and I'll reiterate what my buddy Eric said about energy, "it's political." The geopolitical scene with regards to energy is already ugly towards the U.S.A. and it will likely get uglier. Energy in my next report - The Shift of Power will reveal more challenges ahead. Get busy now, learn all you can because opportunities for energy improvement in IT/ITC will prevail, and I think reward those that heed the call of greening the planet.