Knowledge about Green IT
This article is based on how green IT can improve our industrial environment by making efficient use of all the constituents of IT.
In the Midwest, a public university is working with the local utility company to test smart grid technologies. Because of its size and support of the institution’s president for environmental initiatives, the university was selected for a test site. For the first phase of the program, two campus buildings become test beds—one an academic building and the other the central IT data centre. Each building is outfitted with “smart” electric meters that monitor usage at a granular level. The central IT staffs works with the institution’s facilities personnel and the utility to develop applications that run the grid. The result is a system that constantly monitors and adjusts both supply and demand to provide energy more efficiently and inexpensively than a traditional grid.
The smart grid provides tools for both the utility and campus users. The utility’s application flattens out the spikes in electricity demand by apportioning energy to certain devices while temporarily restricting it to others, based on predefined settings and real-time data provided by meters at the university. On the customer side, IT staff can assign priorities to various systems, such as lighting, HVAC, and computer systems. When demand rises, the grid references these priorities and “learns,” for instance, that restricting power to certain servers in the data centre is never allowed but that the several HVAC units in the academic building may be shut down sequentially for short periods. IT staff at the university can access detailed logs of electricity usage and, among other things, customize the usage profiles so that certain systems run at off-peak hours, when energy rates are lower. They also use the information to adjust variables including power-management settings and class schedules to minimize electricity consumption by an additional 15%.
Subsequent phases will extend the smart grid to other buildings on campus, and eventually the utility will roll it out to the entire town. In the meantime, the utility gains valuable knowledge about how the system works in practice. Through a more efficient distribution of power, the university increases energy efficiency and reduces its energy costs, all without reducing service levels for campus constituents.
What is Green IT
Since our understanding about the environmental consequences of human activity has grown, many believe that we have an obligation to change existing practices and implement new ones to minimize—or reverse—those trends. A heedful consciousness has developed about environmental sustainability, and within this context IT plays a unique role as a sector that not only is responsible for an appreciable portion of emissions and waste but also is in a position to facilitate reductions in the environmental impacts of non-IT areas. Some reports says that the IT contribution to greenhouse gas emissions at 2%—and increasing every year; Nicholas Carr estimates that it takes 1,752 kWh per year to maintain a Second Life avatar. Green IT, which seeks to reduce this level of consumption through various tactics, is an important part of broad sustainability efforts. Take, for example, the paper that colleges and universities use. Recycling is one element of a sustainability effort for paper, though not much related to IT. Double-sided printing—which is at least partly an IT issue—reduces the amount of paper that gets used. Developing an infrastructure that uses electronic records, which drastically cuts the amount of paper used, is very much an IT issue. Green IT is about understanding the role of technology in this interplay and taking steps on several fronts to increase institutional environmental sustainability.
How does Green IT works
Green IT effort is for understanding which elements of a sustainability program most pertain to IT. Increasing the temperature in the data centre to save energy on cooling, for instance, is an IT issue; replacing a coal-fired campus power plant with a geothermal system is primarily a facilities concern. That said, the most successful sustainability efforts are those that are coordinated across the institution. Every campus should establish a baseline of sustainability program which can be a vital part of crafting changes that will have the greatest effect. The audit also establishes a baseline for the measurement of progress toward goals. The sustainability area in which IT has the greatest impact is the reduction of energy usage. Energy savings can come from such practices as purchasing hardware with ENERGY STAR certification or with a rating from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT); replacing CRT monitors with LCDs; and using power-management settings to turn off idle systems. Reducing the number of servers in a data centre—through consolidation or virtualization— also cuts energy, as does a redesign of the data centre itself to better manage heat loads. To the extent that a campus supports videoconferencing, virtual classrooms, and telecommuting, IT can indirectly enable energy savings through reduced transportation.
Extending technology replacement cycles—and recycling and proper disposal of electronic waste—is another part of green IT, as are the potential resource savings from an infrastructure that promotes digital resources, such as electronic textbooks and course packs.
Who’s Doing it ?
There are many countless individual sustainability programs—from small-scale projects to broad-based efforts that encompass the whole institution—are under way or planned at institutions of all types and sizes. These efforts include programs to limit water use, serve locally grown produce in dining halls and compost food waste, rethink housing and transportation, shift energy procurement to renewable sources, and many others. Offices of sustainability are common at colleges and universities, and some have staff devoted specifically to green IT. Retrofits of data centres have saved some institutions a third or more in energy costs, and power-management projects result in significant reductions in energy usage—turning off idle monitors and computers at Stanford University will save an estimated 2 million kWh per year. One of the most visible initiatives to increase awareness of and accountability for sustainability in higher education is the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which commits institutions to inventory emissions, take steps to reduce those emissions, draft a plan to become “climate neutral,” incorporate sustainability into the curriculum, and to make these plans and reports public. To date, leaders of 675 colleges and universities have signed the commitment.
Importance of Green IT
Whenever we talk about any of the topics, whether the topic is water conservation, the food supply and agricultural industries, energy, or many others, a growing body of evidence tells us that many of our current practices are unsustainable and are likely changing the planet’s environmental systems, and higher education rightfully sits at the forefront of such social issues. The economic recession has brought into greater relief the need to develop infrastructures that are less susceptible to volatility in energy prices and that rein in waste streams and pollution. Green IT addresses many of these concerns and ranges from low-cost changes, such as donating computers to local schools or charities, to initiatives with high upfront costs that will be paid back over many years, such as building or co-locating a data centre near a source of renewable energy.
Some down sides of Green IT
There are some green IT practices involve trade-offs. For example, a thin-client program can save energy but might provide less flexibility for end users; for some applications, virtualized servers may not perform as well as stand-alone servers; and power-management programs might require data backups and software upgrades to take place during the day. Each institution must evaluate its tolerance for the compromises that arise. Unless a green IT plan can project cost savings over an acceptable period of time, many such efforts will go unfunded. Even if an adequate payback of investments is demonstrated, some constituents might resent green IT for diverting scarce resources away from programs that are perceived to be core to the institution. That said, “Greenness” is an increasingly important attribute of colleges and universities, especially among students, and decisions to delay or cancel green IT initiatives carries a risk of damaging the institution’s reputation and its ability to attract some students and even certain faculty.
Scope of Green IT
The researches which are on-going will uncover more trends about consumption patterns and sustainability, and a deeper understanding will emerge about where the greatest gains can be made. As green IT leaders unravel the variables, efforts to increase efficiency will become more focused and effective. Many colleges and universities face a quandary when considering green IT initiatives that might not pay for themselves but are arguably in the institution’s best interest anyway, and this negotiation between the “greater good” and financial concerns will need to be resolved. A carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system could be in the offing, and either would bring new regulation and different economic models for green IT. Vendors will develop technologies that are increasingly frugal in their use of energy, and the emergence of smart grids will add new dimensions to energy efficiency.
Implications for higher education
Many believe that putting human activity on an environmentally sustainable course is the overriding challenge we face today, and higher education is a natural leader in this effort, both as an exemplar of sustainable practices and the source of tomorrow’s “green workforce.” From changes with direct outcomes—such as reconfiguring a data centre to reduce its power consumption—to efforts with indirect benefits—such as increasing bus ridership by installing GPS units that allow students to track buses with mobile devices— IT has enormous contributions to make in sustainability programs. As microcosms of municipalities, colleges and universities can serve as testing grounds for sustainable projects. Many of the technologies and practices that will move us to an environmentally sustainable future have been or will be developed in the research centres and classrooms of college campuses, including not only tools but also education, policy changes, and cultural evolution. The emergent “green economy” needs workers with new skills and knowledge, and most of that training will come from a growing list of degree and certification programs in environmental science and engineering, as well as humanities programs that focus on environmental issues. IT is a pivotal component of sustainability efforts, and higher education is in a unique position to support environmental initiatives that will make a difference to our future.
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