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Engineering-Wise - An energy call to arms

Mon, 04/30/2012 - 12:31am
Mark Dzuban, president and CEO of the SCTE

We have a unique opportunity.

SCTE's Mark DzubanEvery time I pull my Jeep in for a fill-up, I’m reminded just how much the world of energy has changed. Gulf No-Nox – remember Gulf No-Nox? – at 259/10 cents a gallon is a fragment of the past that seems to become more distant as the price of unleaded regular heads toward, and even beyond, $4.

We bang the energy management drum a lot at SCTE, and every time I fill the Jeep, I’m reminded why: In the same way that you and I struggle to counter rising fuel and power costs with more efficient usage in our daily lives, so too do the operators, programmers and vendors that make and deliver the products, services and content that drive cable’s growth.

Like all of us, the industry has gone from an era of cheap and abundant power resources to one in which costs are – at best – unpredictable, and one in which it is increasingly possible that sufficient power to support new services may not always be available when and where it is needed.

At the core of the call to arms issued earlier this year by Mark Coblitz, Comcast’s senior vice president of strategic planning, was a challenge to everyone involved in the planning, engineering and operations of cable networks. When Coblitz spoke at our SEMI (Smart Energy Management Initiative) Forum in March, he made it clear that ensuring the availability, reliability and efficient use of energy needs to be as much a part of our network planning and equipment purchase considerations as capital costs and technical capabilities.

I may be biased, but I think every engineering and operations professional in our industry should see Coblitz’s speech. We’ve posted it on the SEMI website, I echoed similar themes at a recent IEEE conference in China, and we’ll be showing an edited version of Coblitz’s speech at the SCTE booth (#2259) at The Cable Show this month in Boston.

The message is that we, as engineers, have a unique opportunity to carve out energy management and power availability as new areas of expertise that can have a real and measureable impact on the companies we work for. At the most immediate level, that means looking beyond capital and integration costs and factoring long-term energy expenses into the value proposition for new products and systems.

Longer term, we have a chance to drive a revolution in how equipment is designed, installed, powered and maintained. The operator and vendor members of our Sustainability Management Subcommittee are creating new standards that will contribute significantly to energy savings. Among them: our Adaptive Power System Interface Specifications, or APSIS, that can vary power consumption based on network traffic demands, as well as another for Predictive Alarming that can provide notification and diagnosis of impending equipment problems based on signal variations within the network.

What’s really exciting about all of this is that it is ground-floor stuff. For a long time, cable’s engineering focus was squarely where it needed to be: on increasing subscribers and increasing the quality and diversity of the services those customers require. The principles of our SEMI program – energy management, power availability and recycling – are more recent outcomes of the industry’s desire to improve the efficiency of its service delivery, and ultimately the bottom line.

Together with our partners at NCTA and CableLabs, SCTE is on the leading edge of an industry movement to bring to the energy arena the same can-do spirit that powered service innovation. Our willingness to devote time and resources to today’s pilot projects are providing the learning and the templates for the energy management best practices of the future.

As we continue to move down the SEMI path, the willingness of the industry to share knowledge that can accelerate widespread adoption of energy programs will be essential to cable’s overall success. To that end, I encourage you to put the SEMI track on your must-do list as you plan for SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, set for Oct. 17-19 in Orlando.

The deadline for presentation abstracts is May 18, and we’re hoping to have discussion in some or all of the following topic areas:

  • Fleet management – Considerations in efficiency and energy
  • Business case studies illustrating saving power, improving performance or planning for higher density
  • 2012 renewable energy landscape
  • Efficiency and reducing power consumption
  • Energy and carbon considerations in facility and network growth planning
  • Energy management and highly available networks – Is now the time for an energy NOC?

If you have something to share, please let us know. If you want to hear what’s happening in our industry, please keep an eye out for those sessions.

While I love a good engineering challenge, I long ago made peace with the fact that significantly changing the fuel mileage of my Jeep is beyond my control. Conversely, the opportunity to achieve real change in cable is extremely achievable. It’s important that all of us – operators, programmers, vendors, associations and others – work together to make that happen.

Email: mdzuban@scte.org

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