Under the UK Climate Change Act 2008, higher and further education sectors are required to reduce their carbon footprint by 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, compared with 1990 levels. With rising energy prices, it also makes financial sense to reduce usage.
UK universities and colleges spend £147 million a year in ICT-related energy costs. There is a lot of scope for both cost savings and environmental improvements.
If you want to reduce your energy costs the first step is establishing how much you are currently spending and how this relates to specific areas of your ICT. This is the step that many universities and colleges are finding difficult as ICT and ICT-related energy costs (such as cooling and uninterruptible power supplies in the data centre) are not always transparent or accessible.
Related costs in particular are often absent from IT budgets or not available to those making procurement decisions. Energy bills are often paid centrally, or, if costs are allocated to different departments, they may be bundled with other costs or allocated on an arbitrary basis such as floor space, rather than being based on actual usage. Not knowing how much is being spent means it is difficult to make informed purchasing decisions or accurately target ways to save energy.
In short, many universities and colleges don't know what their ICT-related energy costs are and, even if they did, couldn't attribute them to specific equipment, operational practice or departmental management.
Reducing energy costs means, among other things, fixing these problems by raising awareness in people of how much they are using, and being able to accurately report the energy costs of specific equipment and facilities.
Accurate information on energy usage allows people to change their behaviour and decision makers to make appropriate investment decisions. This guide takes you through the stages needed to identify and measure your energy costs as well as some energy saving initiatives to get started with.
There are a number of accounting mechanisms which can help you identify all the energy costs associated with ICT.
Full economic costing includes all associated costs of provision, and whole life costing takes into account lifetime operating costs, which are usually much greater than capital costs; energy and related costs are often a significant proportion of operating costs. These different accounting mechanisms are explored in detail along with relevant case studies from universities and colleges in a discussion paper written by Jisc’s Responsible Energy Costs project (RESCO).
Mechanisms such as these are only useful in reducing energy use when they are combined with cost transparency and accountability for energy use.
Any accounting mechanism, or scheme that aims to increase cost transparency or accountability to reduce energy use, depends on accurate and reliable metering to provide energy consumption data.
The level of granularity of these measurements is important – you need to measure energy usage for individual rooms and equipment, rather than for buildings, as different activities and departments may occupy different areas of a single building. This is especially important if different departments are going to be responsible for their own energy costs.
You may find the ICT carbon footprint tool created by the Jisc SusteIT project useful to help estimate the energy consumption, costs and carbon emissions associated with your ICT estate. It is a simple excel tool and the latest version contains a new worksheet, on power usage effectiveness in server rooms and data centres.
You may need expert advice on choosing and installing the right type of meters. Technical advances mean there is a lot more choice, with specific types for specific contexts. Many of the latest meters enable remote and automatic readings of sub-meters in real time. This means less human effort and also better data quality.
Buying and installing meters needs a significant initial investment, and then active monitoring and managing to ensure that they operate as intended, but the benefits can be considerable. Meters provide a way to see clearly where you are using energy and so allowing you to plan how it can be reduced.
Define a scope for metering suitable for your organisation
You may not want to or be able to commit to rolling out a metering programme for your entire organisation. You could choose a defined area as a pilot – for example a department that you can easily ‘isolate’ in terms of rooms and facilities used.
Data centres are typically large users of energy and have clearly identifiable areas of energy usage that my be susceptible to meter installation.
The time, bureaucracy and cost burdens of introducing new measurement, reporting and financial systems, and the ‘mission critical’ nature of IT can all mean reluctance to make changes, so it is vital to convince the right people of the value of any proposed change.
Senior management buy-in is critical if you are to get energy-saving projects off the ground. Present your sustainability efforts as a business case and highlight the potential savings that can be made through efficient practices and infrastructure improvements. Our detailed guide to costing technologies and services can help you here. The message is that sustainable or ‘green’ practices also make good business sense and should be part of the organisation’s overall strategy.
When planning any change it is also good to have someone prominent supporting your case; make sure you have such a champion. Similarly, think about involving your communications department to help you publicise what you are doing and its environmental and cost-saving benefits.
Estates and IT departments will need to be involved in planning projects and managing change, as well as carrying out any installation work. For example, estates departments traditionally manage metering, but estates staff may need to work closely with IT staff and external experts for the installation and training on the operation of more specialised meters.
Users of specific equipment or systems that may be changed need to understand what you are doing and why, and be convinced by the reasons. This is where publicising your project can help, as well as ensuring that you provide enough time and opportunity for discussion about their needs beforehand, and for help and familiarisation after the change.
Tell people what you are going to do – they may tell you important things that you didn't know.
Case study: Cambridge University - staff incentives
The University of Cambridge uses a shared savings scheme to incentivise their departments.
The Electricity Incentive Scheme encourages consumers of electricity across the University to maximise their energy efficiency through a system of financial incentives (both rewards and penalties) at departmental level. In this way it achieves the benefits of fully devolved energy budgets without changes to administrative and managerial set-up that this could have involved.
In its first year (2008/09) the University realised financial savings totalling £820,000, representing 3,582 tonnes of carbon saved. This was made up of a saving of £676,000 realised at the centre as a result of achieving the EIS targets compared with the ‘usual’ consumption that would otherwise have been expected, plus a further net saving of £144,000 realised by those departments that beat their targets. Improvements in efficiency have continued since then.
An obvious way to make people think about how much energy they are using is to make them accountable and responsible for the costs. This is arguably one of the strongest drivers for bringing down energy usage. You can increase accountability through devolved budgeting – in which departments take on responsibility for meeting their own energy bills
Shared savings schemes
If you use a shared savings scheme then a central administration still pays the institution’s energy bills, but then shares with user departments all or part of any differences between the cost of what each department actually consumes and an agreed pre-defined target.
Both methods are being used successfully. The University of London Computing Centre (ULCC) manages its own devolved energy bill of around £240,000 pa. Better measurement of energy usage has enabled the centre to make changes that have increased energy efficiency.
"Energy costs are nearly 50% of our direct operating costs, so getting a grip on them was crucial. A combination of better information and greater financial incentive from devolved energy budgeting has driven improvement actions"
Colin Love, ULCC Data Centre Manager
Case study: University of Manchester - Carbon credits
The University of Manchester launched its Carbon Credit Scheme in August 2011 with the publication of electricity use and related carbon emissions data for each major academic building. Each was given a three percent annual reduction target and their performance against this is monitored daily.
The data is displayed in summary form in building entrances and can also be accessed over the web by users for more detailed analysis. As well as raising awareness this allows users to track changes in energy consumption and see the effectiveness of any energy-saving measures taken.
Making accountability work
Raise awareness of energy consumption with users
Data on usage should be up to date and easily visible.
These should be achievable so as not to put people off, but bear in mind it is often easier to meet targets in the first year of an energy reduction scheme, as there are often easy-to-fix areas of excessive energy usage that can be readily identified.
Use competition and peer pressure
The desire to ‘do better’ than others and not ‘fail’ can be a strong encouragement in energy saving. Both Cambridge’s Electricity Incentive Scheme and Manchester’s Carbon Credit Scheme use an element of this – publicising results and rankings is a strong incentive to do well.
Don’t forget the environmental angle
Some people may be more interested in and motivated by the environmental benefits rather than cost cutting.
Small changes and quick wins can help you move towards large-scale change.
Start by implementing practical ways to save energy, some of which are relatively simple, can either be used alongside an incentive scheme or as standalone changes.
If you have measured energy usage you will be able to see where consumption is high. You may be able to identify some quick and simple improvements, which will encourage everyone to accept more complex changes later.
Printing is an area of activity with great potential for increasing efficiency and cutting energy consumption.
Consider moving from numerous desktop printers to fewer multi-functional devices (MFDs), which can print, photocopy double-sided, scan and fax. Providing swipe card access to devices allows you to track usage by individual or department. The benefits include energy saving, space saving, reduction in carbon emissions, reduced resource consumption (paper, ink and cartridges).
A good starting point is the guide to efficient office printing produced by the University of East London for Jisc.
Case study: University of Nottingham - reformed printing service
Following an efficiency review, the University of Nottingham has undertaken a root and branch reform of its printing service. Out have gone a varied fleet of desktop printers and in has come a managed service from Xerox.
This provides MFDs with default duplex and monochrome printing, and advanced finishing options. The cost of printing is displayed to the user at the point of printing and print jobs must be released via the university smart card. Departments get reports showing who has printed what. Instead of thousands of invoices for printers, paper, consumables and service the university now pays one aggregated invoice a month. 10% of print jobs never get printed as the system purges uncollected jobs after 24 hours.
The University estimates a saving of £75,000 a year on the default duplex option alone.
Newer equipment is generally more efficient (LED monitors are a good example) but check and compare energy-use ratings across different manufacturers.
Choosing the most energy-efficient and the most sustainable equipment is not always as easy as it sounds. Manufacturers’ data is not always available or comparable if you want to take into account environmental impacts across the lifecycle from production, distribution and use through to disposal. Production and use are the stages which it is generally agreed have the most impact, so ensuring that you only buy equipment that is manufactured in a more sustainable way and is rated as more energy efficient will help.
The higher education procurement academy has gathered together useful sources of information on sustainable procurement and the environmental issues associated with IT equipment.
Consider thin client or low-energy PCs
Thin client technology (where the desktop acts as a terminal to a shared server which does all the processing and storage) may deliver lower overall energy consumption than equivalent activities using standard desktop computers.
Leeds Metropolitan University found that thin-client technology offers a significant per-user energy saving under conditions of normal use when compared to standard thick-client configuration, but the lowest energy consumption in their measurements was from use of low energy PCs used in thick-client mode. This is due to newer equipment being more energy efficient than older PCs, so plan for replacement if your equipment is old.
SusteIT have also developed a useful cost and carbon comparison tool which can be used to estimate the costs and carbon emissions of thick versus thin client technology over a given evaluation period.
Case study: Queen Margaret University - £50K savings
Queen Margaret University (QMU), Edinburgh, confirm a very positive experience and savings with thin client after introducing it as part of their new energy-efficient campus.
QMU report that a thin-client set-up costs much the same in infrastructure as a standard PC set-up, but the saving is in on-going costs. Thin-client devices should last up to eight years, whereas PCs are often refreshed after four years; a PC will typically use around 60–100 watts when in use, compared to 8–15 watts for thin-clients. With over 1,250 devices at QMU, that adds up to annual savings on IT electricity consumption alone of £50,000.
Taking all data processing and storage equipment off site offers large potential energy savings at an organisational level.
Cloud costs can appear expensive in relation to more traditional in-house provision, but this may be misleading. Measuring and comparing cloud versus in-house costs can be hard but it’s worth doing. The life of assets, cost of depreciation, staff, infrastructure, building space and energy use of in-house IT provision all need to be accounted for if costs are to be comparable.
Bear in mind that the costs of using the cloud will probably become variable as these services are often ‘pay for what you use’; this will affect your approach to budgeting for what would have previously been relatively fixed costs for in-house IT provision.
Our detailed guide on cloud computing covers definitions, benefits, risks, cloud models and how cloud computing can be funded without extensive capital outlay and can help save costs.
Once you have introduced changes, whether they are incentivisation schemes or new equipment, don’t just sit back.
Continue to monitor energy usage and see where there could be further improvement. Refine or change targets taking into account previous results, changes in regulations, inflation and changes in activity.
This is one in a series of guides around green ICT. You may find also the following of interest: