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Future Forum 2008 Part II

20 Apr

Second Panel Session- Energy in the Environment

This panel session featured professionals from Exelon Corporation, the MIT Lincoln Lab and Lockheed Martin.  This was sort of a spontaneous choice for me, as I had originally planned on going to another panel session.  I figured this might be interesting considering my interest in the environment and technology.  The speakers covered a huge variety of topics which covered a mixture of tech and environmental knowledge.

Heinz Lange from Exelon Corp gave us some insight about Exelon as a company and the things they are pioneering to incorporate the green initiative into their company.  Exelon is the biggest nuclear power provider in the country- with 19 total reactors.  Nuclear energy is a terrific carbon friendly way to generate electricity.  He didn’t talk about the possible drawbacks of nuclear energy, but the turning point for most people is the fact that they represent a possible safety threat.

Tony Pensa from the MIT Lincoln Labs highlighted a lot of great things about his laboratory and the things they want to do to maximize efficiency and save energy.  Mr. Pensa explained that the Department of Energy measures energy consumption by home, manufacturing, and service.  Home energy consumption is rising proportional to the rising population.  Manufacturing’s energy needs are dropping slowly.  And in the service industry, which includes the telecom and data server industry, are growing close to exponentially.  This fact directly impacts his laboratory.  They used to have the 75th most powerful data center only one year ago, but now the same data center is not even on the list of the 500 most powerful.  It is said that the only thing that limits growth is how much you want to pay for energy.  Mr. Pensa gave us a breakdown of energy consumption as one-third to each: energy into power conditioning devices, air conditioning for the facility, and for actual processing.  Up to 80% of energy is being wasted during online server time.  Data centers can save money in the power conditioning and air conditioning areas.  In order to make the processing more efficient is to use virtualization and to use parallel processing.  This not only reduces the number of servers, but makes the existing servers use the entirety of their processing potential.  Projects like Folding At Home use the distributed processing power of participant’s computers to amass a interconnected supercomputer.  Additionally, they stressed to have more efficient programming in order to use all cycles of the processors

The MIT Lincoln Labs spent 10 million dollars on energy this year and expects to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-13 million in the next few years.  Mr. Pensa said that using more efficient techniques will not so much reduce spending in total, but allow the lab to reinvest the money into things like more personnel.  To save money and be more environmentally conscious, they have plans to build a data center far away from their lab linked by a fiber optic connection.  Additionally, they plan to outfit this data center with energy in mind by locating it by cheap, renewable energy sources like hydroelectric and solar energy.  They plan on using the nearby water source to cool the new facility ambiently with high velocity airflow control.  For most of the year, hydroelectric power can power their facility almost entirely.  When the water source is not reliable, they use the money that they made from selling the energy from the solar panels to pay for energy from the power company.  I thought this point was particularly interesting.

Most companies cannot afford to build an entirely new center with a focus on the environment.  Instead, they must upgrade with the environment in mind.  Businesses and universities alike generally refresh thier hardware every two or three years.  They suggested using things like LED monitors and CFLlight bulbs to reduce the impact on the environment.  Even though these products cost more initially, they offer longer operating times and use a lot less energy.  And as these energy efficient products become more and more prevalent, the consumer demand will drive prices down.

Green buildings also came up.  The LEED certification governs these such buildings- including the School of Architecture building here at Penn State.  These green buildings offer huge benefits including energy efficient furnishings, insulation and other building materials.  These high tech buildings represent state of the art materials and ideologies.  Amulya Garga gave great insight on these buildings and their impact on the human element.  Green buildings are a great place to work because many offer employees a better work environment.  The workspace is generally more open, letting natural light in for all employees to enjoy, not just office dwellers.  There is a lot of room for improvement of the workspace for maximization of environmental safety and worker happiness.  Hopefully, building companies will start to incorporate green technologies and building materials in future buildings.

E-Waste is also another problem for businesses and other technology consumers.  After companies refresh their hardware after two or three years, what do they do with it?  Often times the hardware is resold to other companies or donated to charity.  After a certain point, this hardware becomes obsolete and it is of no further use to anyone.  There are companies that collect this obsolete technology and grind it down to separate into elements and components.  This milled material is then sold in bulk to manufactures.  This practice has zero landfill impact as all pieces are recycled.  Computer manufacturing companies like Lenovo are taking big strides to remedy the impact of their products down the road.  Lenovo has several products that meet a new standard that dictates the kinds of materials used in manufacturing computers.  The speakers couldn’t tell us the name of the Certification, but I will investigate and update this post.

The last thing that was discussed was a few other ways to help the environment in regards to the workplace.  Mr. Garga gave the example of teleworking at least one day a week to reduce automobile emissions 20% per every day not spent commuting.  Teleworking is statistically proven to improve worker productivity and workers that telework are happier.  The only problem with teleworking is finding security solutions.  Right now, VPN is the standard in protecting valuable information from being intercepted between the teleworker and the company’s server.  VPN may not be enough when bandwidth increases above the point where the technology cannot handle it.

Conclusion of Future Forum 2008

Overall, my first Future Forum was a great experience.  I learned a lot and got to interface and network with a lot of companies of organizations.  I found another portion of IT that I am interested in (the environment) and will continue to research the topic.  I feel that as time goes on, the environment and technology will fuse in the same way that technology and business have fused over the past 30 years.  Leave your impressions and thoughts in the comments section.

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