One of the paradoxes of our so-called Information Age is that while the Internet brings a world of knowledge to our fingertips, it comes at the cost of a fairly high carbon footprint. Those servers that sustain the World Wide Web consume enormous amounts of power - power which for the most part comes from burning coal. That dark little secret means that the very largest Internet entities - such as Google, Facebook and Twitter - could be responsible for enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
While Google has been highly visible in its efforts to power its server farms from renewable sources - sporting everything from vast solar arrays to the latest fuel cell technologies - Facebook and Twitter have been largely silent on this issue.
At least for Facebook, that silence has now been broken. Announcing something that it is calling the Open Compute Project, Facebook is now offering information on the greening of its server farms and providing documentation on what it did so that others can follow suit. According to the OPC site, Facebook claims that its “vanity free servers” are 38% more efficient and 24% less expensive to build and run than what is generally found in state-of-the-art data centers. Still, the LA Times is reporting that Greenpeace is pushing Facebook to do more - including pledging to get all of the energy that it needs to run its data centers from renewable sources. No word yet on whether or not Facebook will make such a pledge.
All of that is good for Facebook, but what about the rest of us? True, most of us don’t run server farms or manage data centers, but we all use computers to access the Internet - to write and then to read this post, for example. What about us? If we are not in a position to upgrade our computers at home or at work to the latest and most efficient models, what are we to do?
In an effort to make our operations as green as possible (within our budget!) we recently installed “power saving software” called Granola from MiserWare that helps you “help save the planet” by lowering the energy usage of your PC. Or as they say:
Granola makes computers more energy efficient without slowing them down. It’s safe, it’s easy, and it lets your computer run like a hybrid Ferrari – fast when you need speed, but energy efficient when you don’t. Granola helps you save the world.
We have used the software for just over two months on our primary office PC and here are our results so far: 19.7 kWh saved for an overall efficiency improvement of 23.8% Will those numbers save the world? No. But imagine the savings if every PC adopted similar software? In our experience the software has been entirely transparent and we have had no problems using it at all.
We have said it before and we will say it again - energy efficiency is more cost effective than energy generation. We encourage all of our clients to make their buildings as energy efficient as possible before adding solar. In that vein, we applaud the efforts by Facebook and are happy to promote Granola - collectively we will save the world.
In a to-the-point Op-Ed in the online edition of Fortune Magazine, FedEx CEO Frederick Smith calls for “a truly bipartisan solution to our oil dependence” that involves replacing the existing fleet of oil-consuming vehicles with electric cars and trucks. He’s absolutely right, and it is high time for Congress to act.
As the head of FedEx, Smith knows something about oil dependence: everyday FedEx puts 670 aircraft into the skies (flying half-a-million miles each day) and over 70,000 other motorized vehicles - nearly all of which consume oil. But give him credit - for unlike some who simply cry for us to “drill, baby, drill” - Smith acknowledges that this is simply not sustainable. Rather, the solution he proposes is legislation that would encourage the deployment of EVs at a vastly accelerated pace:
What we need to protect our nation is the environment to create in a few short years an entirely new transportation system with millions, and then tens of millions, of electric cars and trucks.
And there is a way to make it happen – pass a bill to promote electric vehicles. Last summer Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Energy Committee voted in favor of a plan to assist the deployment of electric vehicles and infrastructure in the U.S. The bill, which still hasn’t passed, was based in part on policy recommendations by the Electrification Coalition, a group of which I am a member. It calls for the creation of electrification “deployment communities": regions where incentives would support electrification at scale. It leverages constrained federal resources in a market-friendly way by encouraging communities to work with major employers, utilities, and other stakeholders to find the most cost-effective pathways to electrification.
Readers of this blog know well that we are huge supporters of EVs. Legislation at the national level that would encourage the production and deployment of EVs should also promote solar and other renewable energy sources at the same time. It is a natural fit - renewables like solar can fuel EVs so that there are zero emissions associated with the miles traveled and a solar power installation will continue to provide the energy needed to fuel that EV for 25 years or more.
We encourage you to read the entire piece (link at the headline of this post) and share your thoughts in the comments.
On a related note, here is an interview with Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn discussing the rising cost of oil and how that is driving demand for the all-electric Leaf.
As we witness events unfolding in Egypt and elsewhere throughout the Middle East we are struck by the desire of people everywhere to be free and to live lives of hope and self-determination. But here at home we are reminded that instability in the Middle East means higher energy prices - both directly at the pump, and indirectly in the form of military and other costs associated with preserving the continual flow of oil coming to these shores. It is not a sustainable future, and as Americans we need to rethink how we fuel our lives.
Everyday nearly 3 million barrels of oil flow through the Egyptian-controlled Suez Canal, an amount equal to Canada’s entire daily oil production. Much of that oil is destined for the United States, which imports nearly 6 million barrels of OPEC oil each and every day. As the widget to the right shows, oil prices are on the rise again, above $90/bbl as this is written. If the situation in Egypt deteriorates to the point of disrupting the flow of oil through the Suez Canal, oil prices will likely spike to all-time highs.
It simply doesn’t have to be this way.
The new generation of EVs - like the Nissan Leaf - and plug-in hybrids - like the Chevy Volt - have the potential to lead the way to a new future of energy independence. Combine them with a solar power system of your own, and your energy savings really mount up.
Let’s look at an example. Take a Leaf with its 24 kWh battery pack. It is advertised to get roughly 100 miles per charge, but let’s be conservative here and assume that it only gets 80. Moreover, we will assume that our charging system is only 90% efficient so to fully charge that 24 kWh battery pack will actually require 26 kWh of energy. At SCE’s top-tiered rate of $0.325/kWh, our Leaf costs 10.8¢/mile to power. Compare that to the average gasoline-powered car on the highway today. That vehicle, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, averages 22.6 miles/gallon. For gasoline priced at $3.50/gallon, that average car on the road today costs 15.5¢/mile to fuel. Let oil prices spike, and gasoline prices climb to $4.00/gallon (certainly well within the realm of possibility) and that cost per mile goes to 17.7¢. That means if you drive 10,000 miles per year, your fuel cost alone in that typical American car will be $1,770/year and the Leaf - even using the most expensive electricity in SCE territory, will save you $690/year.
Now what if you powered that Leaf not from SCE’s Tier-5 electricity, but with solar power from a Run on Sun solar system? Assume that you installed a 5 kW system that cost $6.00/Watt to install (a reasonable cost). That system would cost $30,000 to install. After rebates (from the utility) and a 30% federal tax credit, and the out-of-pocket cost is roughly 1/2 of that initial cost - say $15,000. That means that the savings from driving 10,000 miles/year will pay for your solar power system in eight and a half years. But during those years you will contribute zero pollution to the environment and never have to stop at a gas station again.
This is the way forward. This is the way to insulate ourselves from political instability while at the same time clearing our air and drastically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
For years detractors could say this wasn’t realistic - that the vehicles didn’t exist or that the economics didn’t pencil out. Those days are over. The future requires a new way of thinking that will turn us away from the failed practices of the past.
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