I’ve got the power! Part 2: Don’t blame IT
In part 1, we saw how Windows XP measured up against Windows 7 in power usage, and it wasn’t pretty. Windows 7 clearly offered some significant savings on power usage, but how would that translate into cold, hard, cash?
I have never seen a proper case study of how much money these mystical power savings could add up to, probably because there are a lot of variables between different schools, different hardware, and different patterns of usage. However, the soon-to-be-abolished Becta publish a somewhat useful ICT carbon footprint comparison tool, which is a spreadsheet into which you can plug all the appropriate figures for your school and get an estimate of your power usage. I say ‘somewhat’ useful because there is an idiotic bug in the Becta version which becomes apparent when you try to compare the power usage of different desktops, so here’s a fixed version (.xlsx) from yours truly.
When I plugged in the figures for my school, I got some interesting results. The first was that by switching to Windows 7 and implementing the power saving schedules I’ve been trialling, I stand to cut the workstation power usage across the school by just under 25%.
However, when I then looked at the amount of money our IT electricity bills turned into, it got even more interesting. This was partly because of the amount of blame apportioned to school IT in recent years for increased energy costs. The most recent place I saw this was in the previous government’s carbon management strategy, Climate change and schools. This stated that emissions from electricity use in schools increased by 31% between 1990 and 2006, and that:
“we can surmise that the increase in electricity consumption has in part been due to the computerisation of our schools, with widespread and important roll-out of information and communications technologies (ICT).”
While the same report also points the finger at longer school hours and increased use of heating, the implication was clear: computers are pushing up the bills. This annoyed me, not only because I don’t like being the whipping boy for the very real problem of climate change, but because this assumption was not backed up with a shred of evidence (as usual).
So, how does it measure up?
My deliberately pessimistic calculations of IT energy usage at my school peg us at just over £5,100 per year. We have more computers than most schools our size, and their age means they are pigs for energy usage, so I was expecting, based on the amount of stick IT attracts in energy efficiency circles, for that to be a big proportion of our bills.
That £5,100 is roughly equal to 10% of the total school annual electricity bill.
How about that for an inconvenient truth? Not exactly the 31% increase in emissions for which IT was somehow first in line for the blame, is it? What’s more, the IT share of the total energy bill drops even lower when the gas bills are included.
Maybe we’re a freak case. Perhaps our computers are at the pinnacle of energy efficiency despite some of them being 8 years old. Perhaps those 20 year old CRT monitors I recently threw out were actually running on nothing more than air. Perhaps the nursery school pupils have a secret underground cannabis factory that’s pushing the overall electricity costs through the roof.
What’s more likely, however, is that the hype about how much electricity IT wastes is utter, unsubstantiated BS.
Let’s actually do the math, everyone. Next time you get quizzed on your power saving measures, take the time to figure out how much power your IT estate actually uses, compare that to the school’s overall electricity bill, and then start asking some other people in the school why they aren’t turning the lights off when they leave the room, and why they have the sodding windows open in the middle of winter instead of turning the radiators down. Don’t bend over and take it when energy efficiency becomes the Head’s latest fad; if my experience is typical, we are not first in line for the blame.