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Engineering-Wise - Energy: A cliffhanger we don’t want to see

Thu, 08/16/2012 - 1:23am
Marty Davidson, vice president of engineering and network operations at the SCTE

We are counting on you.

SCTE's Marty DavidsonConsumers are being presented with more and more technology-based goods and services every day. The sheer amount of these goods and services is staggering compared to years past, but what is even more astounding is the speed at which these products are being introduced in an effort to feed consumers’ voracious hunger for everything they want, wherever they want it, and however they want to access it.

What is the underlying foundation for all of these new, fantastic options for consumers? Simply stated: It’s energy. The more gadgets people have, the more services they access, the more time they spend accessing, the more bandwidth they demand – it all causes a cavalcade of increased activities, from design to manufacturing to test to delivery to operations. Why should any of us be concerned with this? All of this drives a demand for energy that continues to grow and grow.

In the latest U.S. EIA Annual Energy Outlook, the demand for energy across all sectors is predicted to increase 7.5 percent over the next 25 years. That may not seem like a large increase, but when you consider that in 2035, the U.S. alone will be using almost 107 quadrillion Btu, it just makes your head spin. At SCTE’s Smart Energy Management Initiative (SEMI) Forum in March, Comcast’s senior vice president of strategic planning Mark Coblitz challenged us with the question: “Am I willing to bet my business that, in the face of these huge growing demands for bandwidth and energy, the power will be there when I need it?”

Just imagine what it means if the rate of goods and services expands even faster than it is today and what it would mean to our business if energy demand were to exceed supply or we couldn’t get energy where we need it. Not having enough energy is a monumental problem, but let’s assume new sources of energy are identified; the law of supply and demand would still play havoc with our utility bills. So if running out of energy isn’t acceptable, nor is seeing the cost of energy multiply to unimaginable levels, how do we avoid approaching – much less going over – this proverbial cliff? We must all become more efficient in our energy use. Simple to say, but not easy to do.

The process we must go through to obtain the efficiencies needed to ensure our energy future will be challenging to say the least. SCTE has taken on this challenge via a standards-based approach called Adaptive Power Systems Interface Specification (APSIS). Think of APSIS as an end-to-end energy management platform that identifies, analyzes and controls energy use in the most efficient way possible using defined communications protocols. Power management will be addressed by a system and control mechanism that looks at varying power consumption based on network traffic demands, an approach we are calling Transaction-Based Energy Consumption, or TBEC.

One of the outcomes of the APSIS specification will be adjusting the flow of information in a cable network based on energy-related parameters in order to find a more energy-efficient path – or, if you will, a “least-cost routing” approach. APSIS will look at power requirements of the network itself and the hardware in the network, including the devices and information requirements that may be available down to the silicon level.

Additionally, energy awareness needs to be incorporated into all of the layers in the protocol stack and is being considered one of the important design objectives for all of the protocols in APSIS. A number of equipment management schemes are being considered, as are the specific measures of energy and associated methodologies. For example, APSIS is leveraging the work being done in SCTE’s Energy and Density Benchmark Measurement standards initiative.

The initial phase of APSIS will focus on the end-to-end cable network, working to create the most energy-efficient network possible with the additional benefits of increasing reliability of services from an energy perspective. Business continuity and disaster recovery will also profit from APSIS. But that is just the beginning of this project. The next phase of APSIS being outlined is interfacing with energy supply sources and evaluating each through the lenses of availability, reliability, quality and alternative energy, and even from a financial perspective. This includes interfacing with the many facets of “grid” solutions. Future phases of APSIS already being discussed include how the specification can incorporate energy information and control in commercial buildings and the many energy-consuming devices supporting them, or it could even be integrated with the interfaces into a consumer’s home.

As we say in the halls of SCTE’s headquarters, this project is huge, or it will be enormous, but it’s one cliff that SCTE is ready, willing and able to climb. However, we can’t do it alone. We need the support and expertise across our entire industry. That means operators, vendors, industry support organizations and new experts who band together to join our cable standards approach. Now is the time to take action, and we are counting on you, the brightest minds in our industry, to help shape our energy future.

Email: mdavidson@scte.org

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