Campus & Community

Higher IQ power strips will save Holyoke energy

4 min read

The key to saving electricity is right at your feet — and there’s no need to reach for it.

In February, University Information Systems (UIS) technicians installed Smart Strip Power Strips at about 700 workstations in Harvard’s Holyoke Center. When workers there turn off their computers at the end of the day, these floor-level devices shut off everything that is powered at a desk.

The switchover was a joint, collaborative project of Harvard Real Estate Services (HRES), which manages the 200,000-square-foot building, and the office of the University Chief Information Officer (CIO).

Conventional power strips are multi-outlet devices that protect computers and other sensitive electronics from power surges. Smart Strip units go a step further. They use the computer’s own power draw as a trigger to shutting down lamps, cell phone chargers, personal printers, and other work station electronic gear.

“One click of your computer mouse on the shutdown option controls the whole workstation,” said Bjorn Storz, the sustainability program engineer at HRES.

“Things in an office that may have never shut down before now shut down when the computer powers off,” said Robert Cahill, CIO director of support services.

The average workstation, he said, has four to eight outlets in use at any one time. Left overnight, electronics even in standby mode continue to draw what insiders call “phantom power.”

Smart Strips cost less than $17 each. If everyone uses the shutdown option, the project will pay for itself in a year. That includes unit cost and the cost of installation.

Actual energy savings are still dependent on behavioral change — “on how many people power their computers down,” said Storz.

Two weeks were scheduled for the conversion, but it took only five days for two technicians to complete. (UIS employee Ben Wood managed the installation.)

“Communication was the key,” said UIS administrative coordinator Kathryn McNaught. That meant alerting building occupants and coordinating the technical help to schedule proper installation.

Project designers hope more Harvard departments and Schools will bring together experts in information technology and facilities management. They say collaboration like this is one way to meet the ambitious conservation goal Harvard announced last year: to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2016.

“There are going to be lots of ways for IT and facilities groups to collaborate,” said CIO senior project manager Eric D’Souza. “The strips are just one example.”

He cited another example: Harvard’s many data centers and computer rooms. These are specialized rooms where sensitive computer hardware is kept in environments controlled for power, cooling, and humidity. But their efficiency can be optimized, said D’Souza.

In addition, building managers working with IT staff are deploying more electronic utility controls. These devices monitor and measure in order to optimize a room’s heat, light, and ventilation — based on occupancy, use, and other factors.

“Even little steps make a big difference,” and they add up, said Heather Henriksen.  She’s director of Harvard’s Office For Sustainability, the department charged with helping the entire University dramatically reduce its carbon footprint.Behavioral changes like this play an important role in reducing energy consumption, said Henriksen, which is necessary to meet Harvard’s 2016 greenhouse gas reduction goal.

Many new-generation power strips save energy in roughly the same way, said Storz. But choosing the right one took study and experimentation. “We ordered a few,” he said, and for each one “I turned my computer on and off for a few days.”

Given economic realities, there is no plan to roll out the new power strips University-wide. But when UIS technicians install a new power strip, they will install this one.

The power strips aren’t for everybody, said D’Souza. Desktop computers in some research areas and laboratories, for instance, need to be powered up all the time.

But for the average work area, the new power strips “are a better place to be,” said Cahill.

He said UIS has another collaboration under way — setting printers to default to making two-sided copies, called “duplex output.”

That one adjustment, now being made on roughly 3,000 computers supported by UIS, will affect several hundred printers. That could reduce paper usage by up to 50 percent.