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.


About The Angry Technician

The Angry Technician is an experienced IT professional in the UK education sector. Normally found in various states of annoyance on his blog. All views are those of his imaginary pet dog, Howard.

7 responses to “I’ve got the power! Part 2: Don’t blame IT”

  1. Leighton James says :

    HI AT

    WELL SAID! I have been reading this blog for a few months and never posted a comment before but I feel I have to say something here.

    I was in the IT Suite one afternoon completing some updates on a bank of machines, i left the room for a whole 2 minutes and when i came back in the school’s “eco warriors” were busy shutting them down. I asked them to stop and they informed me that they were told they had to shut them down regardless of the fact that anyone was using them.

    I immediately found the teacher who had told them this and was told and i quote

    “The computers use far too much energy, they have to be switched off at the end of the day. We have left them on before now when staff have been using them and they ended up being left on all night.”

    I told the teacher that i was in the middle of something in the suite and would now need to start again.

    At this point i was told it was not their problem!! AAAGHHHH!!

    • TheCrust says :

      @Leighton. It’s amazing how a complete lack of understanding mixed in with good intentions and the inability to think an idea through properly can be so disruptive.

      We have the power socket fairies at our place too but I kept them at bay by writing a simple job using the task scheduler to power off all PC kit at 4.30pm. And threatening to cut hands off if I caught them molesting the IT kit again. :-)

  2. Mark Scholes says :

    Is your school heated by electricity?

    When will they invent power sockets I can turn on and off via the server? Those printers probably suck power all night.

    And can I turn off PoE devices at night via a script on the switch?

    • AngryTechnician says :

      I think part of the school relies on electirc, byt most is on gas.

      There are some ‘smart’ power strips available (such as these) that monitor one of the sockets, and when that one drops below a threshold (say 10W), it will cut power to the rest. I’ve never used them personally so have no idea how good they are.

      • John S says :

        We weren’t aware that there was a problem with the comparison tool – it’d be much appreciated if you could drop me a mail and I’ll see if I can ensure it gets remedied.

        On the network controllable power sockets, Enistic (http://www.enistic.com/index.php) have a system that will allow control of power sockets via their own power management software (they seem to have an installable client and a web based version too). How well it works, I have no idea – but it’s certainly a good idea.

        • AngryTechnician says :

          John – expect an email from me shortly. Wasn’t sure whether the tool was still being developed given the current state of funding for Becta following the election, or I would have got in touch sooner.

  3. Jonna Healey says :

    @Leighton How annoying is that? What you leave a room imaging laptops to go and make use of your time by doing other jobs, you come back and they’ve all been ‘interrupted’ by somebody coming turning them off!

    Very frustrating, but teachers/IT Cords (!!) don’t seem to understand that you don’t need to be sat in front of the PC for it to be doing something useful.


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