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Intel's Queen of Green: No. 1 purchaser of green energy reduces consumption, increases power

Intel's Queen of Green: No. 1 purchaser of green energy reduces consumption, increases power

Posting in Architecture

The head of Intel's Eco-Technology Program Office talks about improving efficiency, and how technology can reduce energy consumption by providing consumers information about their usage.

Intel is the No. 1 purchaser of green power in the U.S., with about 50 percent of its power coming from renewables, according to Lorie Wigle, general manager of Intel’s Eco-Technology Program Office. Wigle, who helped Intel develop the office in 2007, is also president of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. She is the former director of Intel’s Server Technology and Initiatives Marketing. I talked to Wigle recently about sustainable manufacturing and usage, and how virtualization technology is good for green.

Describe the scene when you first started at Intel 26 years ago. Was there any talk of recycling or saving energy?

When I started, my first job was teaching Intel employees how to use PCs. I won an award for justifying hard drives for secretaries--and we called them secretaries. There was no talk at all about energy efficiency. Things have obviously changed.

We just did some analysis for Intel’s CEO that looks at the energy consumed by the first billion connected PCs, which was in 2007. Our current projection is 2 billion by the end of 2014. If you compare the second billion versus the first billion, it’s half as much energy, and they will do 17 times as much work. The reason is that we’ve been improving the efficiency dramatically using Moore’s Law but also with smaller form factors, such as net books.

There are a lot of areas where you can reduce energy consumption, from product design to manufacturing and delivery. Walk me through the sustainability initiatives throughout the lifecycle of a product.

When we’re making the components, every year we’re either changing the micro architecture of the products or changing the manufacturing process. As we do that, we set targets of how much energy will be consumed per unit of production. We’re making really steady progress in the factories.

One of the things that contributes to the CO2 emissions is the source of energy. Intel is the No. 1 purchaser of green power in the U.S. About 50 percent of our power comes from renewables.

The use phase is the major contributor of environmental impact, so power management capabilities are very important. The Intel components—the chips –need to support that, as well as the software.

Finally, the last phase of the product. Given that we’re a component in the system, what we can do is make sure programs are in place for take-back and recycling. But the more direct impact we can have is with the materials, eliminating lead and flame-retardants. They have no negative impact during the use of the computer, but if the computer was recycled and melted down in an open air environment it could be dangerous.

Tell me how virtualization technology fits into your green initiatives.

It’s a great technology for sustainability. One of Intel’s most recent products is the Xeon 5600 processor, which goes into server products. If you buy a server that uses this processor, it’ll do five times as much work as the server it’s replacing. You can either trade out one-to-one and you’ll consume 10 percent less electricity; or through the use of virtualization technology, you can replace five servers with one server. Virtualization lets you set up five pretend servers on the one real server, and you’ll use 85 percent less electricity. The capability we’re enabling with virtualization is server consolidation.

Who is taking advantage of this?

A lot of IT organizations. In many cases they are running out of capacity in their data centers. This allows them to eliminate a lot of physical hardware. They’re saving money in operating costs but also because they don’t need to build a new data center.

There’s just more and more adoption. There’s a lot of work to make virtualization even more sophisticated. Maybe on my five servers, one is 10 percent busy and the others are 30 percent busy. I can take the one that’s at 10 percent and completely shut it down. That’s dynamic workload management. Being the green person, what I care about is that it makes you save energy.

What remains the biggest challenge in sustainability?

One of the things we work on is the whole area of smart grid—the evolution of electricity’s delivery. In that example as well as some other applications, we don’t really have the right market mechanisms in place to prompt the behavior. Like, if you’re a utility, do you really want to promote less energy usage?

Tell me about the technology you’re using to help you meet your sustainability goals.

In our Intel Open Energy Initiative, we’re focused on looking at energy or electricity consumption in home-energy management and some pilot work in commercial office buildings. And we’re looking at how technology can reduce energy consumption. If you just provide consumers with information about their energy use, it’s been well studied that they’ll reduce their consumption by 15 percent. So we’re working on technologies that will do that.

We’ve done proof of concept on a panel for your home that shows you whether your utility is reducing or increasing prices based on the time of day, and it gives you information on what you’re using on individual devices. In our lab, we’re working on Common Sense wireless sensing technology, which allows individuals to collect data and analysis on appliances in their home.

You’re president of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative. Tell me about this nonprofit.

It started in June 2007with Intel and Google as founders. Now there are more than 600 members. The whole focus of it is to reduce energy emissions and CO2 from computing. We look at the whole computer and have targeted two different areas to improve: power delivery and power management.

When power comes out of the wall socket, it’s in alternating current and gets converted to direct current. When we started, it was only 70 percent efficient; you lost 30 percent in conversion and lost another 20 percent in various step-downs. Such an obvious area of waste.

And power management--your PC going to sleep. When we started, only 10percent of all desktop computers had power management enabled. Today, [adoption of power management is] around 18 percent.

Between these two areas, we can eliminate 54 million tons of CO2 emissions [from IT equipment] by June 2011. So far we’ve decreased by 32 million to 36 million tons worldwide since 2007. That’s pretty exciting. The next focus is networking—switches and routers.

What keeps you awake at night?

The hardest thing in my job--think of your priority list-- is where to draw the line on the list and realize that I can’t do everything.

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Melanie D.G. Kaplan

Contributing Editor

Melanie D.G. Kaplan is a Washington, D.C.- based journalist. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and National Parks Magazine. Her website is www.melaniedgkaplan.com. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure