Mon, Aug 11, 2008 - Page 11 News List

Microsoft, others propose power diet for computers


In its drive to go green, the technology industry has so far focused mainly on big targets like corporations and especially computer data centers, the power-hungry computing engine rooms of the Internet economy.

Next come the hundreds of millions of desktop and laptop personal computers in households worldwide.

Microsoft, the nonprofit Climate Savers Computing Initiative and a startup called Verdiem are combining to put a spotlight on the energy-saving opportunity in PCs, and distributing a free software tool to consumers to help them do it.

The potential savings in both dollars and pollution is huge, analysts say, when the estimated 1 billion PCs in use globally are taken into account. The research firm Gartner estimates that 40 percent of all carbon-dioxide emissions resulting from information technology and telecommunications are attributable to PCs. Data center computers account for 23 percent, and the rest is attributable to printers and telecommunications equipment.

“If you are going to tackle climate change and curb energy use, you have to deal with consumer devices like PCs,” said Andrew Fanara, a product development expert in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, which promotes energy-efficient products and practices.

For more than a decade, the federal Energy Star program has developed voluntary power-management standards for PCs, and suppliers like Intel and Microsoft have steadily improved the energy efficiency of their chips and software. But Fanara estimated that fewer than half of PCs met those standards, in part because more energy-efficient hardware adds slightly to production costs.

“There are large potential savings beyond what Energy Star can do,” he said.

The free software, called Edison, is a consumer version of the PC energy-saving software sold to corporate customers by Verdiem, which is financed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a leading venture capital firm and an aggressive investor in green technologies, and other venture investors.

Verdiem, based in Seattle, has 180 corporate and government customers, including Hewlett-Packard, which bundles Verdiem’s Surveyor program on its desktop PCs sold to corporations. Though he will not disclose sales figures, the company’s chief executive, Kevin Klustner, says revenue should triple this year.

There are other free tools for calculating and managing PC power consumption, including the EPA’s EZ Wizard, CO² Saver and a Google energy-saving gadget. But Edison allows the user more flexibility, especially in making the settings as stringent as they want, analysts say.

If a user sets the software to put the machine in a “deep sleep” mode after a few minutes of not hitting a keystroke, the hard drive powers down, and the PC sips just 5 percent of its normal energy consumption.

That kind of energy diet is far from standard practice in homes and offices. Half of all electricity consumed by a standard PC is wasted, environmental and industry studies show.

Household electricity bills could also be trimmed by US$20 to US$95 a year for each PC, depending on local power costs and the kind of PCs in use, Klustner said.

“What we’re trying to do is raise the visibility of the power consumption problem on the PC desktop and really bring power management to the masses,” he said.

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