The heat is on.

The time has arrived for every enterprise to stop taking energy costs and availability for granted and to plan for the strategic role it plays in staying competitive. Strategic initiatives will always be part of broadband market leadership. Given its importance in both driving operational costs down and ensuring energy needs are met as demand grows, one of those initiatives must now be smart energy management.

Thomas RussellCommercial services, the growth of untethered devices and new consumer services are creating the need for more bandwidth and additional power requirements in headends, hubs and outside plant. While service demands are expanding, monthly gridprovided energy costs are only forecasted to increase.

Growing energy costs are not limited to consumption by electronics alone. An undesirable byproduct of high-speed broadband transmission electronics is heat, and plenty of it. The reduced size, increased density and increased processing speed of headend broadband equipment has resulted in more heat concentrated into smaller facilities. In the interest of saving on real estate costs, more and more equipment is placed in closer confines, and the necessity to remove the resulting heat buildup gets expensive. Circulating fans and air conditioners use a lot of energy – and they don’t even “do” anything to directly contribute to revenue; they are purely necessary expenses.

However, keeping things cool is vital. According to one study, if the operating temperature is lowered by only 10 degrees Celsius, the mean time between failures (MTBF) rises as much as 30 percent. So mitigating this one issue can reap rewards in reduced operating costs and improved availability. This is especially important to the growth of business services, where 24/7 reliability requirements can be built into service contracts. Reducing the number of high consumption, active (powered) devices from the distribution network, where feasible, saves money in the long run and simultaneously improves customer satisfaction.

HFC outside plant – amplifiers and such – also use power and need to have copper wire connections to provide an electrical path for carrying the signals, and for the AC or DC power. While power supplies have made great gains in terms of efficiency (power out over power in) and reliability, reducing network energy usage by removing amplifiers and other devices from the outside plant can generate substantial operating cost savings.

This could be accomplished over the long term by reducing the “C” in HFC – coax – by making passive fiber optics a larger component of the network architecture. While going completely to passive FTTx is many years away, the SCTE’s RF over Glass standard (ANSI/SCTE 174 2010) has shown promise as a solution on the roadmap to PON for local access. For example, test deployments demonstrated a reduction in outside plant utility costs by a factor of about 16. Over a reasonable timeframe, the payback in lower energy costs can offset the initial capital expenditures of rolling out the new technology.

The electric power bought from utilities can be reduced and localized to where it is needed with a combination of alternative sources. Backing up utility-provided power with solar and fuel cells adds redundancy, and thereby increases system availability. For example, the SCTE’s data center is powered by solar cells and is backed up with a combination of the grid and fuel cell technology. A comprehensive energy strategy at SCTE’s Exton, Penn., headquarters has resulted in a dramatic 43 percent grid energy savings in 2011.

Moving toward full optical networks as a long-term direction is only one piece of developing an energy-efficient network. Achieving efficiencies in enterprise energy usage is a goal that goes beyond opex. Sustainability has become the societal watchword. This is actually an opportunity rather than an additional burden. By partnering with organizations that are developing “green” solutions, operators will see the business benefits of smart energy management initiatives. Best industry practices, technical standards, behavioral changes, training and certification of employees in intelligent energy usage policies, and open discussions create synergy. One or a few of these actions alone do not have the influence that all of them combined can attain.

The price of energy is increasing, and supply growth is constrained by a number of well-publicized factors. Efficiency is a mitigating response. An overall energy management policy needs to be adopted and supported by operators (and by all businesses, for that matter) as mission-critical. The ISO 50001 standard defines the parameters for developing an enterprise-wide energy management system. It is a foundation document that encourages enterprises of all sizes to set usage goals and design reporting systems to make sure the stated goals are being reached and maintained. The SCTE’s Sustainability Management Subcommittee is developing cable-specific guidelines, best practices and technical standards toward energy-efficiency, and its SEMI program provides an opportunity for stakeholders to experience and share advanced smart energy management activities.

The important takeaway is that actively managing energy usage in an intelligent way reduces operating costs, improves service assurance and customer satisfaction, and is just good engineering.