Cold weather, data centers put pressure on power usage

Cold weather has put additional pressure on energy supplies

In the wake of the recent winter storms, some North American electricity providers have been asking customers to conserve energy in order to reduce strain on the grid. Government organizations have also undertaken similar initiatives, with the Illinois Commerce Commission directing utility Commonwealth Edison to do more to cut power usage.

While suppliers and individuals face challenges in changing usage patterns, enterprises face an uphill battle in adjusting not only to the current crunch but to long-term increases in prices as well. Infrastructure such as cloud data centers could complicate electricity consumption, making it important for organizations to consider intelligent power management software. Left unchecked, PCs consume considerable amounts of electricity, but this solution strikes the perfect balance between conservation and business continuity.

Consumers, electricity suppliers urged to change usage patterns
Electricity suppliers in the Eastern and Midwest U.S. have encouraged customers to use less energy so as to lower the chances of rolling blackouts and outages. PJM Interconnection, a company that provides electricity to people in 13 states and the District of Columbia, told users last month to cut back usage during periods of particularly frigid weather.

The company stated that subzero temperatures were straining its supplies. Some generators were running for longer periods of time than usual, heightening the prospect of technical failure that would in turn further tighten overall supply.

PJM advised customers to set thermostats lower, health permitting. It also suggested that power-hungry appliances such as washing/drying machines and stoves not be used until midday or after 9 p.m., when demand ramps down. Finally, it encouraged users to turn off lights and anything else that they weren’t using.

Other suppliers have been under similar pressure. In late January, the Tennessee Valley Authority reported near-record levels of usage as temperatures dipped to around 6 degrees Fahrenheit. The TVA’s power demand rose to 32,768 megawatts to accommodate electric furnaces, heat pumps and heaters, its second highest level after a mark set only the week before.

While not related to the winter weather, the Illinois Commerce Commission’s directive to ComEd underscored widespread concern about the sustainability of current power usage levels. ComEd was ordered to achieve 25,000 additional megawatt-hours in annual savings, or 4 percent more than its own plan allows for.

PCs, data centers a major drain on power supplies
Although not explicitly touched upon by any of these providers or organizations, most PCs and IT infrastructure are still major consumers of electricity. In 2007, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told Congress that data center power draw could double every five years.

But the move to the cloud may provide some relief. Utilizing software-as-a-service and amenities such as hosted email could cut a business’s power consumption by almost 90 percent, according to a study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. If every U.S. company took this route, enough energy would be saved each year to power the entire city of Los Angeles over the same time period.

Whether organizations move to a public cloud or simply virtualize more services, they can achieve greater savings through energy saving software. By smartly analyzing different metrics before putting an endpoint to sleep, it balances conservation and business continuity, plus it gives administrators the power to set different policies and control events across the enterprise.

Suzannah Hastings

Suzannah is interested in all things digital, from software security to the latest technological advances. She writes about ways in which the increasingly internet-driven landscape changes our lives, and what we can expect in the future.