Internet Insight: Feds on the Trail of Energy Leaks

The Bush administration and Congress are working on ways to reduce energy demand by limiting the amount of power used by devices including computers, monitors and telephones.

In todays political climate, much of the discussion surrounding energy focuses on ways to increase the supply. However, both the Bush administration and Congress are working on ways to reduce energy demand by limiting the amount of power used by devices including computers, monitors and telephones.

The Department of Energy in the next couple of weeks plans to release a report that quantifies the energy consumption of major telecommunications and IT users—typically a first step before the regulators attempt to establish guidelines in any new area.

The latest IT-related energy initiative at the General Services Administration, in Washington, is the implementation of guidelines to promote more efficient use of power by devices in standby mode, according to Tom Daily, chief of the GSAs Environmental Programs branch, in Arlington, Va. This month, the GSA, working with the DOE and the Defense Logistics Agency, released a list of devices that will be subject to the guidelines. Devices are in standby mode when they are switched off but continue to draw energy for clocks and other functions.

The initiative originated with an executive order signed by President Bush last July, directing federal agencies to purchase devices that use 1 watt or less of continuous power in standby. The task in the coming year for the federal agencies is to identify whether such products exist commercially and to work more closely with industry to encourage their production. "Were trying to find out what is available in the marketplace," said Wendell Garner, program analyst at the GSA. "Were calling the devices low-power standby devices [rather than 1-watt standby devices]."

The standby power guidelines are likely to overlap existing regulations under the Energy Star program, administered by the DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency. The program directs federal agencies to purchase Energy Star-labeled products when possible, and when its not possible, to purchase products in the upper 25 percent of energy efficiency as deemed by the DOEs Federal Energy Management Program. The guidelines are in continual re-evaluation. For example, integrated computer systems that were shipped before July 1, 2000, are required to use 45 watts or less of continuous power in sleep mode; those shipped after July 1, 2000, are required to use 35 watts or less in sleep mode.

Standby specifications will be incorporated into Energy Star product guidelines as they are updated, according to Andrew Fanara, manager for Energy Star Product Development at the EPA, in Washington. "There is a fair amount of pure waste here," Fanara said. "The executive order helps send a signal to manufacturers to think about the standby power consumption of their products."

If the signal from the White House is not clear enough, there may be a stronger message coming from Capitol Hill. Congress this year plans to vote on a major overhaul of the Energy Policy Act of 1992, spurred partially by the recent energy crisis in California and by heightened concerns about the maintenance of critical infrastructure following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Bills circulating in the Senate and the House include language on standby power consumption.

Today, the federal governments energy conservation guidelines do not extend to networking equipment beyond the desktop, but look for Washington to begin making inroads in that arena soon. "Right now, none of the routers, servers or anything in the IT or telecom area is covered," Fanara said. "It is clear to us that they do consume a pretty good chunk of energy, and we believe there is some waste there."

A new Energy Star program that deals with the power consumption of buildings is developing benchmarks for telecom central offices, which require more energy per square foot than any other type of commercial building, according to the EPA.