In its fight against global warming, the University has an unusual opponent: its own computers. Although they don’t cough out carbon dioxide like cars, computers are energy-sucking machines, a problem made worse by the fact that many people keep them on all day and night. To combat this growing problem, the University joined the Climate Savers Computing Initiative last year, a group with a two-fold purpose: to conserve energy and develop more energy-efficient computers. These are two excellent goals that will both save the University money and decrease harmful energy waste. However, many of the best solutions are obvious – they will just require a lot of advertising and few incentives.
While achieving it may not be so easy, the goal of the CSCI is straightforward. By 2010, the CSCI aims to reduce the University’s computer power consumption by 50 percent. Since nearly half of all the energy used by computers is wasted as heat, part of the effort will replace some of campus’s 30,000 computers with more energy-efficient, CSCI-approved models, which may require cajoling a few companies into manufacturing these models. The other part will focus on changing simple and preventable waste, raising awareness about eco-friendly habits and developing system configuration guidelines, among other reforms. The program could have big results: If the University reduces its computer energy consumption by only 10 percent, it would decrease its carbon emissions by 6,516,000 lbs. and save $500,000 each year.
With the exception of efforts to get computer manufacturers to change their ways, which is a long-overdue kick in the butt, the University plans seem, well, obvious. The efforts to reduce excessive power usage by raising awareness and conserve energy with new system configurations is so obvious that it’s a bit confusing why it took so many years and a lofty-sounding title to spark some action. What the University needs to do is take the obvious and institutionalize it.
Take, for instance, the most tried and true energy saver of all time: turning electronics off. When they aren’t in use, computers have no need to be turned on, and yet on campus so many of them are left on all hours of the day. Yale University has experimented with a system that automatically turns off its computers, reboots them at night for updates and shuts them back down again. This program has saved Yale $40 per computer per year in energy costs, and a study has shown that the computers could be shut down without sacrificing maintenance.
Or consider the massive amounts of paper that is wasted at the University. The solution: double-sided printing. The University has long maintained that it hasn’t made duplex printing the default setting on many printers because it leads to increased paper jams and more abandoned paper. Sure, making doubled-sided printing the default setting might not be right for the high-volume printers in the Fishbowl, but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be right for the smaller computer labs that dot campus. Regardless, many students don’t know how to print double-sided anyway. If the University were to educate students how to print double-sided and give them some motivation to do so – for example, by counting double-sided pages as 1.5 pages of a student’s printing allocation – many more students would. They would probably be patient enough to wait for their pages too.
The University certainly has the right idea by joining the CSCI. But the initiative will remain largely symbolic if the University continues crawling its way to greener computing ideas on campus. It can’t afford to waste one more year.