The Climate Savers Computing Initiative received a fair amount of attention when the scheme was launched back in June and appears intent on proving that its promises will be worthwhile rather than written once in the press release and then forgotten about.
This is a collective effort on behalf of IT vendors including Microsoft, Dell, Lenovo, Sun, Intel, AMD, Fujitsu and NEC, but also including web sites such as eBay and organisations including the World Wildlife Fund, utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Climate Savers' mission is to reduce the amount of wastage in computers caused by power not reaching critical components such as CPU, memory or disk, and by making those components more energy efficient when power does reach them.
At the recent Intel Developer Forum that took place in San Francisco, I met a key figure in Climate Savers, Bill Weihl. Bill's day job is at Google where he rejoices in the title of green energy czar.
The latest news from Climate Savers is that Climate Savers is going global, having added geographic teams in Europe, China, Japan and Taiwan. For Weihl this is a proof point that the issue of wasteful power consumption in computers is "a global issue, not just a US issue" and reflects the fact that with China fast emerging as a technology superpower and other areas of the globe remaining innovators, IT vendor responsibility is not just about America.
The outstanding data point cited by Climate Savers is that over half the power that comes out of the wall socket never reaches the PC. However, in an ultra-competitive market, where margins are already pared to the bone in mature sectors such as PCs, what can be done about that?
For Weihl, the answer is in part by creating a pull-side demand from business and consumer purchasers.
"I've seen some real change already," he reports. "It's hard for [business buyers] to make a single central procurement decision. But before [data was available on the level of power loss], they weren't really thinking about it. Now they have something very specific to argue over."
But surely price will be the overwhelming criterion for many buyers, and lowest price will mandate a quick-and-dirty approach to building systems?
Weihl insists that the price differential in building an energy-efficient PC and an energy-inefficicent PC is marginal and that all Climate Savers is asking is the equivalent of asking makers to "forego one of their five lattes a day".
He adds: "It makes sense to even the price-sensitive folks when you really talk to them. If they’re able to think of total cost of ownership, it just makes sense."
As a marker, Climate Savers is asking systems makers to follow the EPA's Energy Star 4.0 guidelines but Weihl acknowledges that efficiency can go further.
"[Energy Star 4.0] is a big important step but the technology is there to do much better than that," he says.
But while the industry can go further he concedes there are grey areas when it comes to measuring energy efficiency.
"With power supplies, it's pretty clear how to measure, but with motherboards, for example, it's more difficult," he says. "Some have fans built in, some rely on fans on the enclosure, so where do you count the fan power?"
When Climate Savers launched, some suggested that there could be confusion with the Green Grid, a group of IT companies and professionals aimed at reducing datacentre power consumption. So, will the two team up at some point?
Weihl believes that is possible and agrees that there is some overlap but notes areas of separate focus.
"The two organisations are attacking the problem at two different levels," he says. "Green Grid is focused on the datacentre and Climate Savers is focused on the individual [client or] server system. At some point it may make sense to merge but what we're doing today is a very different activity."
Climate Savers' objective is to be "very actionable with a clear roadmap for several years to get wastage down from over 50 to 15 per cent".
Plans to make it clearer for buyers to find energy-efficient systems include the likelihood of a logo programme and a catalogue of approved products this autumn.
Weihl is confident change is going to come and that vendors are on board. "Energy prices are unlikely to go down," he observes. "Windows Vista is a step forward from a power management point of view. [In many older PCs] there are a number of ways the system can prevent it going to sleep and that makes it much harder to save power."
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