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Engineering-Wise - A Time for Energy Efficiency

Thu, 09/30/2010 - 8:15pm
Daniel Howard Chief technology Officer for the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers

Think green

In the few months since I joined the SCTE as CTO, I’ve gotten involved in a broad range of projects that have been designed to help the cable industry reap the business benefits from technology. But few have struck a chord like the organization’s Smart Energy Management Initiative – SEMI, for short.

I’d already seen the importance of power consumption when I was consulting for a major metropolitan school system in 2005. At the time, I’d touted the benefits of Linux thin clients in the classroom by hyping the reliability, zero software costs and scalability without completely winning them over. But all of that changed when I pointed out that thin clients consumed one-sixth of the power of their existing older desktop PCs, and that the system could achieve a 2:1 studentto-PC ratio without upgrading their electrical infrastructure. Today, there are thin clients throughout the school system.

By Daniel HowardSo when I was introduced to the SEMI initiative, I was all ears. It was easy to understand the math: Whether revenue is growing or leveling out, cable operators can maximize profitability by driving cost out of network operations. And energy costs are a natural target.

What’s going on in the energy space? There’s some telling data from Peco Energy that Derek DiGiacomo, SEMI’s project manager and our resident expert on energy management issues, likes to share: “Over the past 10 years, U.S. demand for electricity has grown by 26 percent, from 2.87 billion MWH (megawatt hours) to 3.62 billion MWH, while electricity supply has grown by only 24 percent, from 3.07 billion MWH to 3.81 billion MWH. U.S. consumption of electricity is expected to increase by 22 percent over the next 10 years, from 3.62 billion MWH to 4.41 billion MWH.”

In short, the growth in energy supply is not keeping up with the growth in demand, so it’s no surprise that SEMI is a hot issue. Our “Green Pavilion” at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo this month is once again a focal point for solutions in such areas as power management, alternative powering, recycling and recovery, and it is bringing buyers and sellers together to better equip and plan the networks of today and the future in our telecommunications industry. And on Nov. 17, we’ll be exploring how operators can implement energy management strategies at a SEMI forum – our third in less than a year – at the Time Warner Cable offices in Herndon, Va.

Ever since we dipped our toe into the energy management waters last year with the inaugural Green Pavilion at Cable-Tec Expo, SEMI has provided a vehicle for operators and vendors to share solutions that can drive out energy costs for the entire industry. We’re asking how capex and opex will be impacted through the adoption of a variety of energy ideas and are discussing new entries in the cable industry lexicon: data center cooling, energy audits, solar power impacts, fuel cell reliability and geothermal.

We have seen both large- and small-scale forays into photovoltaic systems – from the photovoltaic array that’s powering the information technology needs at our own headquarters to larger installations that are helping Cox supplement its air conditioning demands. We’ve organized and facilitated a VIP tour of the United States Department of Energy National Renewable Laboratories, where we got to see firsthand the cutting-edge technologies currently in government-sponsored research and development. We’ve ramped up the development of SEMIrelated primers and other resources that can increase the knowledge base of the industry and its workforce. And we’ve formed a Sustainability Management Subcommittee (SMS) within the SCTE standards program; under the chairmanship of Time Warner Cable senior director of technical operations Dan Cooper, SMS is responsible for identifying standards and best practices for reducing power consumption and costs, increasing operating efficiency, and minimizing disposal effects of outdated equipment.

It’s an exciting time for the SCTE and a truly rewarding mission: to drive the creation of meaningful solutions for more efficient operations and economic benefit, to advocate energy management processes and products that can reduce current operational costs, to advocate renewable energy technologies that can benefit operators with ROIs of three to seven years, and to advocate recycling and recovery techniques that can minimize the disposal effects of outdated equipment.

But to bring the greatest possible value to the industry, we need the entire cable workforce to start thinking green and to commit to supporting this effort. If you’re attending Expo, please visit the Green Pavilion. If you’re a subject matter expert, please share your knowledge by producing a primer. Support the SMS efforts by joining the SCTE standards program and attending the next meeting in Herndon. Finally, submit an abstract for an upcoming forum, where you can work with top engineers from the major MSOs to help shape the future of more energy-efficient communication networks.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, we’re involved in a lot of exciting activities here at the SCTE, but SEMI is one about which I am particularly passionate. I look forward to the industry joining us in this effort.

E-Mail: dhoward@scte.org

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