Research and development (R&D) at HP focuses on creating the next generation of technology products and services, including those that promote sustainability, while creating value for HP and its customers.

HP Labs is our central research organization, complementing R&D that occurs throughout our business groups. It aims to:

  • Create new technologies, as evidenced through intellectual property (IP) generation in the form of publications and patents.
  • Ensure our innovations reach customers through technology transfer to existing HP businesses, new business creation, and IP licensing.
  • Lead and work with others in the technology community through an open-innovation approach.

Sustainability is one of eight primary areas of HP's research strategy and is a consideration in all HP Labs' activities (see graphic). It is the focus of our Sustainable Ecosystems Research Group (SERG). In 2010 Chandrakant Patel, director of SERG, was promoted to the level of HP senior fellow. As one of the most senior technology experts within the company, he directs a team of researchers focused on creating new technologies, information technology (IT) infrastructures, and business models for the low-carbon economy.

HP Labs research areas

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We made significant advances to incorporate the principles of sustainability in developing IT in 2010, including in the following areas:

Sustainable data center design

Our objective is to develop a "net zero energy" facility, or a facility that uses renewable technologies to offset all of the energy it needs over its entire life cycle—from equipment manufacture to operation, disposal, and reclamation. In 2010, we used our internally developed Ecosystem Sustainability Assessment Tool to study a customer's data center life cycle GHG emissions. We found that:

  • For this data center, operations constituted the bulk of its life cycle GHG emissions, so the greatest reduction opportunities involved IT and making energy efficiency improvements to facility infrastructure (see graph). See Products, services, and software use for examples of how we are addressing these opportunities.
  • The IT equipment itself—which is replaced every few years—was the largest contributor to the data center's embedded GHG emissions. Embedded emissions are those associated with raw materials extraction, manufacture and transport of new equipment, and construction of the data center building and facilities.
Total greenhouse gas emissions across the data center life cycle (estimated)
Audit findings
red Embedded
yellow Operational
  • * “IT infrastructure” refers to the compute, storage, and networking equipment within the data center. “Facility” refers to the power delivery and cooling infrastructure required to support the data center. “Building” includes the shell of the data center itself as well as lighting loads.

We also use demonstration data centers to advance our research. For example, our Palo Alto, California, Sustainable Data Center facility can receive power from multiple sources, including photovoltaic cells. We are developing an end-to-end management system that improves efficiency by dynamically allocating IT, power, and cooling resources based on demand, while automatically selecting more sustainable power and cooling options (such as outside air) when possible while maintaining required service levels.

Further research focuses on the use of alternative energy to reduce data center GHG emissions. In May 2010, we published a research paper that explains how waste from a farm of 10,000 dairy cows could generate enough methane to power a medium-sized data center, while heat generated by the data center could in turn increase the efficiency of the methane production process.

HP Home Energy Manager

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HP Home Energy Manager includes
an intuitive user interface that allows
a home owner to view energy usage data
alongside other resources, like natural gas and water.

We are developing a tool that we envision will one day enable home owners to better understand, manage, and reduce their energy and water use via a wireless network of sensors that continually feed information about resource use into a cloud-based system with a simple control panel user interface.

In 2010, we piloted HP Home Energy Manager in seven test homes, and collected more than 20 million sensor readings. This information is helping our research team to refine analytical methods to assess resource usage both holistically and at the level of individual devices. In addition to the home control panel, we are also developing a system that will enable utilities to use information collected to more effectively monitor and manage resources at the scale of cities.

Sustainable IT Ecosystems: enabling next-generation cities

We are researching the role of IT innovations in the cities of the future. As an example, we have explored the benefits that IT can bring to the design and efficient operation of municipal water and energy management systems. Improvements are urgently needed. In the United States alone, the amount of water leaked from homes could exceed 4 trillion liters a year (equivalent to the annual water use of Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami combined),1 while large-scale energy-efficiency measures could save $1.2 trillion USD a year.2 In July 2010, we published a white paper on this topic that builds on our 2009 investigations into what a future city—which we call City 2.0—might look like.

Our approach to enabling the resource-efficient City 2.0 vision is based on a series of steps:

  • Mapping the different parts of a city, to understand how they interconnect and how their life cycles overlap. Our multi-sector model predicts how material, energy, and water use within one sector of the economy may influence those aspects in other sectors, to minimize inefficiency and waste across the value chain. The farm-waste powered data center described above is an example.
  • Designing city-wide infrastructure with flexible microgrids that can adapt to changing needs. For example, water transport requires energy, and traditional power plants require water, but both have seasonal fluctuations in demand. In some cases, enabling a network of regional water sources alongside localized renewable power sources may reduce energy used in transporting water—especially during off-peak periods.
  • Establishing a network of sensors that provides a snapshot of the infrastructure's state at any point in time. As an illustration, we use sensors to monitor energy use within data centers. Similar technology can be used in other types of facilities, including office buildings and manufacturing plants.
  • Developing tools to analyze the vast volume of data that the sensor network will generate. For example, the HP Home Energy Manager described above uses advanced data mining algorithms to evaluate the millions of data points provided from sensors within the home, and we are evaluating similar techniques to make oil exploration more effective.
  • After identifying trends, manipulating the infrastructure to make it more efficient and cost-effective. Based on insights gained from analytic tools, processes to minimize resource consumption can be identified. As an example, we have demonstrated automated control to minimize energy use within data centers.

Visit HP Labs for more information about innovation for the environment, in the areas described above as well as others, such as memristor, flexible displays, energy-efficient microchips, and nanotechnology.

  1. 1 Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,   http://www.epa.gov/WaterSense/pubs/fixleak.html
  2. 2 Source: McKinsey Global Energy and Materials, Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy, http://www.mckinsey.com/clientservice/electricpowernaturalgas/downloads/US_energy_efficiency_full_report.pdf