Computing Through an Energy Crisis: How to Save Money and Power
You've probably never thought twice about leaving a PC on at work or at home. There was always juice to run it--all day and all night, if necessary--and the few pennies it cost wasn't a big concern.
Times have changed. As California residents found out this winter, the limitless availability of electricity isn't guaranteed. The rolling blackouts that darkened the Golden State probably won't happen in yours, but if they do, consult the chart on page 54 for some backup remedies. In any case, you'll probably be paying higher energy prices in the months and years ahead. The reasons: a growing population, heavily dependent on electricity, coupled with the slow pace of building new power plants nationwide.
As we look forward to summer, traditionally the season of soaring electricity demand, how can PC owners and buyers save money, conserve power, and still manage to reach their computing goals? These sections will give you some tips on how to best cut your energy costs.
Simple, but true--turning off lights is the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your energy costs. According to the EPA, lighting accounts for approximately 24 percent of total end-use consumption of electricity in commercial offices--the largest piece of the energy consumption pie.
To start saving, look into an automated shutoff system that kicks in after-hours. That way you don't have to rely on workers to remember to switch off individual lights as they leave. For your home, consider an automation system such as X10's ActiveHome (prices range from $50 to several thousand), which allows you to control the times when lights go on and off, and more.
To save while lights are on, consider switching to energy-efficient lightbulbs such as 25-watt spiral fluorescent models. Although they are initially more expensive, they offer much longer life, cost substantially less to operate, and provide lighting comparable to the incandescent lightbulbs you use today. Also, try a dimmer system in hallways and other parts of the building for additional savings.
Many PC makers participate in the EPA's
According to the EPA, office equipment accounts for approximately 8 percent of commercial energy end use--slightly less than space cooling does (9 percent)--and it will only go up as equipment costs drop. Using Energy Star-compliant equipment can mean energy savings of at least 50 percent per machine.
"Think about it. You have a home office equipped with a computer, a scanner, a printer, and a fax machine. If those things are running all the time, they're consuming electricity," says EPA's Craig Hershberg, product manager for the Energy Star program. "And those products are generating heat, which means you'll have to use more electricity to cool down this summer."
Have you been drooling over the new flat-panel monitors, but couldn't come up with a good enough reason to justify the premium price tag? Did you know these LCDs use only about a third of the energy required for a CRT monitor? It's true. They also run cooler, so you'll save money on air-conditioning costs, too.
Microsoft's operating systems feature power-management controls (Settings, Control Panel, Power Management) that will automatically put your computer to sleep after it idles for a prespecified amount of time--anywhere from 5 minutes to more than an hour.
If you don't turn off your monitor, you should remember to power it down when you're done for the day. "The monitor may use 90 to 110 watts when it is on," Hershberg says. "When it shuts down and goes to sleep, that goes to 15 watts or lower. Deep sleep is 8 watts or lower."
Intel has developed the Instantly Available PC (IAPC) standard, which is only now appearing on the newest systems from such vendors as IBM, Compaq, Dell, Sony, and HP. After a user-set time of inactivity, it sends the PCs into a very-low-power sleep mode (the goal is 5 watts)--deeper even than Energy Star requirements. Before going into sleep, it saves to RAM the information about apps you have open and communications connections, so you can resume work nearly instantaneously, right at the point where you left off.
Even if the higher cost of energy doesn't pose a cash crunch for you now, taking steps to make your PC system more efficient and less costly to operate will pay dividends in months and years ahead.
When natural disasters--or man-made crises--strike, a good uninterruptible power supply (UPS) can help you save your data and avoid the headaches involved in trying to reconstruct your work. We tested the battery life of several of the latest UPS products designed for the home and home-office market.