The University Record, July 16, 1997

Tame appetite of energy-hungry PCs

By Ryan Solomon
News and Information Services

There is more to conserving natural resources than recycling paper, turning down the thermostat or caulking drafty windows. One of three energy conservation booklets published by Utilities Department focuses its attention on ways to reduce electricity costs that result from the more than 27,000 personal computers on the Ann Arbor campus. The 10-page booklet, U-M Guide to Green Computing, describes steps that can be taken to reduce computer and printer electricity use that costs the University at least $1.8 million per year - nearly 11 percent of the total amount the University spends on electricity.

The guide estimates there are at least 26,800 personal computers and about 13,400 printers on campus. Those estimates do not include the many computers students bring to campus or those used in the Medical Center. Utilities Department Energy Management Engineer and booklet coordinator Don Lystra says energy usage statistics showed his unit there was a compelling need for energy conservation aimed at desktop computers. "Personal computers have become a very major component of energy consumption. They account for a pretty good chunk of the electricity that the University uses."

The University first began thoroughly recording its energy consumption in 1973. In that year, 46 BTU of electricity per gross square foot was used. That rose to 68 BTU per gross square foot in 1996. While Lystra acknowledges part of the increase in electricity use that occurred during those 23 years came from more buildings and widespread use of air conditioning, he says the growth of personal computers figures prominently in the data of historical energy costs. "Our estimate was that about 35 percent of the increase in the electrical use since 1980 is due to the growth of personal computers."

Not counting personal computers brought by students or those used at the Medical Center, Lystra estimates the roughly 25 million kilowatt-hours of electricity used by personal computers each year would be enough electricity to power 26 Fleming Administration Buildings or four Hatcher Graduate Libraries.

The guide lists a number of simple things people can do to reduce their computer's appetite for electricity. Lystra offers several recommendations to cut down on energy use:

Through the years, Lystra says manufacturers have gotten better at building more efficient personal computers. A number of years ago the Environmental Protection Agency initiated a voluntary compliance program designed to promote the building of energy efficient operation of appliances and electronics. Manufacturers who meet the EPA standard can display the Energy Star logo on their products. Lystra says products with the logo use 30 percent less electricity than a similar computer without the rating, and he recommends shopping for products with the logo. The electricity savings accrued over the lifetime of the computer can add up to hundreds of dollars.

Publishing the booklet was a team effort, involving, in addition to Lystra, Energy Management Office Coordinator David Anderson, Design Engineer Yoshiko Hill and School of Natural Resources and Environment student Angela Farleigh.

Lystra says Farleigh did an excellent job of collecting and analyzing facts for the booklet. But he says she made an even more valuable contribution to the project when she shared her idealism with co-workers whose enthusiasm may have faded. "It's been fun to be in touch with the students and to have some of their idealism rub off on us and to know that they are supportive of what we're trying to do in our energy conservation work."

Lystra says the student perspective Farleigh brought to the project was different from staff perceptions of energy conservation. Whereas staff thought in terms of economics and non-renewable resources, he says Farleigh reminded them of the importance of atmospheric pollution, global warming and paper waste.

Three booklets on energy use and conservation, U-M Guide to Green Computing, U-M Guide to Energy-Efficient Lighting and U-M Guide to Energy Conservation, can be ordered by calling the Utilities Department, 764-2492.