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Green solutions for e-pollution

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SummaryThe Energy Star initiative was conceived to control energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission by power plants, and now it is being extended to cover IT gear.

And you thought only vehicles on our roads are throwing dirty particles in the air. Even computers are notorious sources of pollution. Estimates suggest that the world over, the amount of ozone-depleting greenhouse gases emitted by tech equipment annually is equivalent to what a couple of million vehicles would do. If that’s not bad enough, computers waste half the energy they guzzle.

Thankfully, India is not a major contributor to this looming environmental doom because computer usage is so scarce. The local market for PCs is just around 5 million units a year—a mere 2% of global shipments. And the total installed base of computers in India is a piffling 15 million. Still, the country can’t afford to be just a spectator to green consciousness in the tech world. It needs to be a participant in any movement that pushes the electronic frontier forward. The positive fallout: tech users can save big bucks on energy cost as well.

On this front, the new Energy Star 4.0 specifications—effective from July 20, 2007, and suggested by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—promise significant energy efficiency for computer systems. The products that meet the new standards would be able to run on nearly half the electricity that conventional systems consume. The Energy Star initiative was conceived in the early 1990s to control energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission by power plants, and now it is being extended to cover IT gear. While the older version, 3.0, requires computers to consume not more than 15 watts when idle (referred to as “sleep mode”), the new standards allow them to use only 4 watts. As the compliant systems would use energy-saving power-supplying boxes, they are expected to be over 60% more efficient. Thus, these systems would not only help computer user companies (and individuals) cut operating expenses, but they will also do their bit for global warming.

The imperative of energy saving and environment protection is so acute that several tech firms have joined hands to promote the use of energy-efficient computers and power management tools. Intel and Google, for instance, have roped in Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft and others—including even the EPA—to start the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. With a 90% efficiency target for computer power supplies, the programme aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54 million tonnes per year and save over $5.5 billion in energy costs. Intel believes that by 2010, the joint initiative will help cut greenhouse gas emissions enormously—it will be like taking nearly 11 million cars off the road.

That is the need of the hour. Today, most businesses in emerging economies like India are facing a cost-linked energy crisis in running their corporate datacenters (big central locations to install main IT resources like hardware, software and networking equipment). Thanks to high energy costs, some say that it is cheaper for companies to make a capital investment on the purchase of high-end servers than to run them for, say, a year. Now, such companies can expect enormous cost-savings by deploying Energy Star-labeled machines. The power bills will be lower not only because of the machines but also the lower air conditioning requirement, as energy-efficient machines dissipate much less heat.

Though the benefits of the campaign led by Energy Star 4.0 will accumulate only slowly for Indian enterprises because they may not be ready to replace their systems rightaway, new tech users can consider this option seriously. Small and medium enterprises in the processes of acquiring technology, for example, can adopt energy-efficient computers. They would probably need to make marginally higher capital investments, but it would be worth it. The government can also encourage businesses to buy energy-efficient computers by offering some additional tax benefits on such purchases. Just remember: energy saved is cost saved. And that is the whole point.

The writer is a technology market analyst. These are his personal views Email: rr_thakur@yahoo.com

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