Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Energy Reduction in UK Universities

Greetings from the University of Sydney, where Nicola Hogan, from the UK SUSTE-TECH project is talking about ICT Energy Reduction by universities.

Nicola is the the Sustainable ICT Project Manager for the SUSTE-TECH Project at the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC). SUSTE-TECH is a UK Government funded project (JISC), which aims to measure and reduce energy use of ICT systems in universities.

She explained how JISC funded the development of the SUSTE-IT Tool which can be used to estimate the energy and carbon footprint of ICT in an organization. The tool is free on-line and can be set to work with the energy costs and emissions in countries other than Australia. JISC is funded by the UK government (perhaps Australia needs a similar body).

The ANU is relatively well placed, having a Green ICT Project
Project Management Plan
, preapred by Samuel Fernandes (one of my former ICT Sustainability students). Other Australian universities appear to be less well advanced. Australian federal government agencies are required to report energy use and savings measures in their annual reports. Perhaps universities should be required to do this as well as part of their compulsory reporting for the "My Unviersity" web site.

Nicola explained her SUSTE-TECH project in therms of weight loss: first weigh yourself, then decide what diet changes to make and measure the gains at the end. For IT the methodology is to estimate power use, then introduce changes, such as using centralized printers, power down and virtualisation and then estimate savings. However, experience has shown that diet programs do not work for many people and similarly energy loss programs quickly go out of fashion. In my view we need to find financial savings or other incentives, which have energy savings as a by-product.

Nicola gave the example of the use of single sided printing at a university, which turned out to have been a policy from decades ago when double sided printing did not work well.

There was a question about how much energy cloud suppliers, such as Google use. It would seem to make sense that Google, Amazon and Microsoft would report how much energy and CO2 resulted form the services you used. I could not find any figures for this, but I found "Google’s Green Computing: Efficiency at Scale".

One of the applications to reduce energizer use discussed was video conferencing. Many universities now have the "Access Gird" advanced video conferecne system. However, it can be difficult to operate and so may be underutilized.

Nicola commented that while many UK institutions were interested in using the SUSTE-IT tool but only 10 sent in reports. Perhaps it would be feasible to use the IT system itself to carry out an on-line census of equipment. An application could search across the computer network and record what equipment was found.

In my view a shift to on-line processes would make larger and more lasting savings than peace-meal energy initiatives. Rather than use double sided printing for students, stop printing handouts. Instead of putting the PCs in the lecture theater into sleep mode when not needed, eliminate the lectures, lecture theater and the PC. Instead of trying to get teaching staff to be more energy efficient in their individual offices, put them in open plan, with one quarter the space each.

One important point was that Nicola mentioned energy saving could be made as part of designing new learning centers. So the university does not need to stop having classrooms completely. Instead they can save energy while setting up the new learning commons.

Another approach would be to address the issues which IT manager have day to day. These are about security, funding and support.

For Vice-chancellors what attracts students is of interest. I found "If Universities want to attract the best students, they must Go Green.". Also university look at "league tables" so perhaps we need a green league table pr green issues built into the tables commonly referred to. Thgere is a USA universities Green Honor Roll.

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