Feds in California strive to keep IT cool

Feds in California strive to keep IT cool

BY PATRICIA DAUKANTAS | GCN STAFF

As California braces for more rolling power blackouts this summer, agencies with facilities in the Golden State are scrambling to comply with a May 3 presidential order to cut peak-hour electrical consumption 10 percent.

Federal agencies will join state and local authorities in a statewide electrical load-reduction test on Thursday.

The Energy Department's Federal Energy Management Program is forming teams to instruct California workers on power-saving techniques before the end of June. The federal government consumes about 1.5 percent of the nation's total energy production, and federal installations in California use a similar percentage in that state, said Elizabeth Shearer, FEMP's director.

The installations include federally owned office buildings, military bases, veterans' hospitals, Coast Guard stations and leased buildings, Shearer said.

The Defense Department, California's largest single energy user, consumes about
1 percent of the total at peak times. Deputy secretary Paul Wolfowitz has said DOD will cut that by a tenth by investing in energy-efficient equipment, as well as conservation and power generation at its sites.

The percentage of electricity drawn by federal information systems is unclear.

A study last year by two Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers said buying more energy-efficient products could cut federal energy use 3 percent to 12 percent by 2010. But that study lumped lighting, appliances, and heating and cooling products with office equipment.

Blackout, not break-out

A February LBNL survey studied power consumption by network and office equipment but did not separate government information technology from residential, commercial and industrial systems. This latest report estimated office and network equipment consumes about 2 percent of the nation's electricity.

According to the Energy Information Administration's table of federal energy consumption between 1975 and 1999, agencies' electrical use soared in the late 1980s. Consumption tailed off somewhat after 1995 because of government downsizing and a series of presidential orders requiring cuts.

FEMP emphasizes conservation through retrofitting buildings and procurement of energy-efficient products, Shearer said.

Hospitals and some national defense facilities are excluded from the rolling blackouts, but office buildings have no such luck. Agencies are starting to gauge the effects of rolling blackouts that last two or three days.

Each agency with California offices has developed an emergency load-reduction plan. Officials have a list of measures to take depending on the scope of an outage, such as turning off escalators and nonessential lights.

The Navy's California operations already have been shutting down air conditioning, lights and equipment because of California's high electricity prices, Shearer said.

She cited LBNL numbers that say office equipment in federal buildings is responsible for about 4 percent of energy consumption. That figure, however, probably does not include Web servers, mainframes or cooling equipment in computer rooms.

In contrast, lighting consumes roughly 30 percent of the electricity used.

'The fact that [IT consumption] is so low is because of the Energy Star efforts,' Shearer said. The Environmental Protection Agency in 1992 announced the government-industry partnership to promote energy-efficient appliances. Energy joined the partnership four years later.

Computers were the first products to gain Energy Star approval, she said. Before that, computers were 'getting to be a larger and larger plug load in our buildings,' she said.

Cut it, or else

In 1994, President Clinton issued an executive order directing agencies by 2005 to reduce their energy consumption 30 percent from 1985 levels. In 1999, that mandate was superseded by Executive Order 13123, which directed agencies to buy products that either bear the Energy Star label or are more energy-efficient than 75 percent of marketplace competitors.

The General Services Administration used to track Energy Star computer buys, but a couple of years ago GSA discontinued the practice when such purchases exceeded 90 percent of procurements, Shearer said.

GSA and LBNL are developing the GSA Energy and Management Network, which links heating, ventilation and air conditioning control systems in multiple buildings.

Mark Levi, a buildings management specialist with GSA's Pacific Rim Region, said most midsize to large office buildings have computerized systems to control HVAC. But the controllers typically are proprietary.

Two buildings in San Francisco have connected their control systems to GEMnet, and nine more in Las Vegas, Phoenix, southern California and Tucson, Ariz., are expected to do so by the end of this month, Levi said.

'What we're doing with GEMnet isn't terribly complicated,' Levi said. The goal is a widespread system for analyzing trends in temperature, pressure and flow through the HVAC systems to find efficiency losses.

It's not feasible for someone in every building to monitor such things, so GSA needs central data collection and analysis, he said.

For the most part, the separate cooling systems for server rooms are excluded from the demand-reduction program, Levi said. Servers are typically agency-owned, and GSA as the landlord has no jurisdiction over them.

GSA has invested $310 million in building retrofits, but 'we've yet to have a server project submitted,' said Mark Ewing, director of GSA's Energy Center of Expertise in Kansas City, Mo.

'One of the last concerns an IT person has is the energy consumption of a server,' Ewing said.

The key to conserving is probably to make the cooling systems as efficient as possible in enclosed server rooms, Ewing said. GSA also has advised agencies to consolidate backup generators for server farms.

For the most part, GSA pays the utility bills for the buildings it manages and passes along the cost to the agencies, Levi said.

Jonathan G. Koomey, a researcher with LBNL's Environmental Energy Technologies Division and one of the authors of the February report on IT power consumption, has debunked some published reports that the so-called Internet economy is responsible for 8 percent or more of the nation's electric bill.

'People have this misimpression that office equipment is causing all this demand,' Koomey said. 'It's not so huge'it's an urban legend.'

GCN chief technology editor Susan M. Menke contributed to this report.

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