A Little Information Goes a Long Way

EDF Climate Corps fellow | July 7, 2009

By Sarah Shapiro, MBA/MS candidate, University of Michigan, 2009 Climate Corps fellow at Cisco Systems, member of Net Impact

A little information goes a long way.

As cliché as it sounds, I have always known this to be true, both as an individual and on a larger group level.  For instance, when my GPS tells me I will reach my destination in 29 minutes, I take it as a personal challenge to try to make it in 25 minutes.  Sometime I even wonder if I could do it in 22.

My Subaru reports my average MPG used on a trip; on the next trip, I try to go a little slower or a little faster and evaluate how that affects my MPG. If I did not know how long the trip was supposed to take or what my trip's MPG was, I wouldn't be challenged in the same way.

It's the information that makes the difference.

Cisco is taking this idea to an operational level. When I began my summer at Cisco a just over a month ago, I continued work on a project started by Emily Reyna, last year's Climate Corp Fellow that involves installing Power Distribution Units (PDUs) on racks in data labs. It is estimated the initiative will have an 18-month payback and save Cisco roughly $8 million per year while reducing the company's greenhouse gas emissions by 3 percent.

PDUs act as a smart power strip.  Anything plugged into a PDU will have its energy usage monitored, often multiple times a second. PDUs don't save energy themselves; rather they provide users with consumption and energy load information that prompt questions: When is the equipment on?  How much power is it drawing? What is the temperature, humidity, etc?

These types of questions help users identify opportunities for efficiencies. Allowing a user to see when a piece of equipment is actually being used - even from a remote location away from the lab - enables them to turn it off when it is not needed. A lab administrator may even choose to retire a piece of equipment if it is not being used frequently enough.

The real potential for PDUs to save energy rests with each individual lab user, not with the equipment itself. Individuals – when provided enough information – can find personal motivation to save energy, reduce consumption, and save money.

Some groups have even gone so far as to set up tracking systems among employees. There's no better incentive than seeing a coworker save more energy than you to get your competitive juices flowing.

Want to try it for yourself?  Individuals at home or in the workplace can use small gadgets like the Kill A Watt to monitor the energy consumption of electrical appliances.   Monitors such as these can also help small businesses forecast energy costs.

This content is cross-posted on GreenBiz.com.