Research performed at California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the environmental impact of PCs has found that the implementation of good power management practices can save approximately 0.5t of carbon dioxide emissions a year. “It is quite an incredible figure,” says Phil Wilcock, chief technical officer for 1E, a company which provides software that automatically switches off computers at night. “If you multiply that by the number of PCs out there, you are looking at pretty significant potential savings, in terms of electricity, cost and emissions.”

1E originally produced software that woke PCs up, in order for companies to install software automatically overnight, but began to receive enquiries from businesses that did not want to leave PCs on all night.

“Initially it was quite a simple tool, which simply turned off PCs and that was it,” Wilcock says. “But it has developed from there into a fully-featured power management tool.”

Maximising power-saving options

The company chose to develop the product further because of interest from Californian companies during the state’s power crisis, when local legislation came into place which forced companies to cut their power consumption. “Companies were faced with having to cut power and one of the most simple ways was simply to turn PCs off overnight,” he says.

NightWatchman “maximises all the available power saving options on a PC”, according to Wilcock, “starting with the monitor itself, which is the biggest power draw”.

Within Windows it is possible to set a timeout whereby the monitor will go into standby if the PC is not used for a period of time, in itself one of the simplest ways of saving energy. “But if you can also switch the base unit of at night and weekends, you get further savings,” Wilcock says.

However, 1E found that people were wary of the idea of interfering with other users’ PCs when they were not there. “If a user had gone home and left documents open, people were scared of losing user data – especially where it was sensitive or very important,” he says. So 1E built into a facility into the software which can save open documents before the shutdown commences.

Information on energy consumption

In order to help demonstrate the potential cost savings of introducing a PC power management regime, 1E has also developed a piece of free software called EnergyScout, which is an information-gathering tool on PC energy consumption. Available to download from 1E’s website, it can be installed on around a dozen PCs, where it will silently report back to a central PC the power usage patterns of those computers over a week. Data includes the time the PC was switched on, but the user wasn’t active; the time the screen was on; and when the PC was in standby mode. “It gives you some quite detailed statistics of the potential power savings and also the carbon dioxide emissions,” Wilcock says. “It provides a good illustration of the PCs’ environmental impact.”

Growing awareness

While 1E – a UK company – has so far found most of its business in the US, the company’s client base in Europe and the UK is building steadily. “In the US there is heightened awareness of energy use,” Wilcock says. “There are power issues all over the US in various states. And at state level, governments are beginning to bring in legislation that incentivises energy efficiency gains.” However, countries such as Switzerland are also beginning to pass laws which force companies to save energy.

Users of NightWatchman have a number of drivers. “It could purely be cost, but we are also approached by environment groups within companies, and by buildings management groups who are purely interested in saving electricity,” he says. “Awareness is slowly growing in the UK and there is quite a big government push.”

However, if the government hopes to achieve its plans to bring energy efficiency to the forefront of industry’s consciousness, it has a lot of work still to do, Wilcock says. “Unless something is really waved in front of them which says they can save X million pounds, companies generally just don’t bother.”

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