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Changing the energy equation

Changing the energy equation

The world’s demand for energy has soared as growing prosperity has transformed lives around the globe. Consumption grew by more than a third between 1990 and 2006, and is forecast to increase an additional 44 percent by 20301. As energy use has risen, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have gone up as well.

While the information technology (IT) industry accounts for only 2 percent of GHG emissions worldwide, it has the potential to help mitigate the other 98 percent. Innovative technologies can pave the way to more sustainable economic growth by measuring consumption, driving greater efficiency in using resources and displacing energy-intensive processes altogether.


You can’t manage what you can’t measure. And that’s a problem when it comes to reducing energy consumption and shrinking the global carbon footprint.

HP has developed sophisticated tools for managing power usage and measuring carbon emissions. For example, the Advanced Meter Infrastructure solution for utilities monitors energy consumption in real-time, helping producers and customers anticipate and more efficiently meet demand. Energy producers such as Hydro One, Gas Natural and Sempra Energy are already using HP products, services and consulting in their smart metering initiatives.

We also help businesses and consumers better measure energy and emissions with our online Carbon Footprint Calculator for printers and PCs. (See case study.) For a more comprehensive view, our Carbon Impact Assessment Service takes into account the energy use and associated emissions of an entire IT environment.


Understanding how much energy you’re using is the first step. The next is increasing the efficiency of systems to use less.

At HP, we’re committed to ongoing innovation that makes IT more efficient. That’s why we’re focused on increasing the energy efficiency of our products and services, as well as working closely with our suppliers to help them reduce their carbon footprint.

For example, Instant-on Technology for printers virtually eliminates warm-up time cutting a printer’s energy use by up to 50 percent. HP estimates that for HP monochrome LaserJet products alone, Instant-on Technology helped customers avoid 1.3 million tonnes of CO2e emissions in 2009, equivalent to removing more than 240,000 cars from the road for one year. Simply measuring energy use can also go a long way to increase IT’s efficiency. For example, HP Power Assistant, available on some HP desktop PCs, reports on your PC’s energy consumption in real time, giving users an estimate of what running their PC costs—in dollars, kilowatt hours and even carbon emissions. Users can then tap HP Power Assistant to optimize their PC’s settings, such as by reducing screen brightness and turning off wireless features.

Beyond printers and PCs, HP is also dramatically increasing the efficiency of power-hungry data centers. The energy used by data centers doubled between 2000 and 2006—and was forecast to double again by 2011.2 As a result, data centers worldwide now account for more GHG emissions than the nations of Argentina and the Netherlands combined.3

In response, HP is designing data centers to be substantially more efficient and to use local, renewable energy resources. For example, the facility we’re completing in Wynyard, UK, saves energy by using the cold North Sea air to cool the equipment, and sensors to ensure lights are only on when needed. Already recognized for design excellence, Wynyard is expected to achieve a 40 percent reduction in energy consumption compared with existing data centers of its size.

We’re also developing more energy-efficient server hardware. For example, “skinless” server trays are 31 percent lighter than standard servers, and are so efficient that a 9,300-square-meter data center built entirely with this architecture would save enough energy to power over 4,600 average U.S. households. That’s $4.1 million in savings annually; the material saved is equivalent to 4.3 Boeing 747s (760 metric tonnes).

IT can help make processes more efficient in every industry. For example, buildings are the largest users of energy in the developed world and better information can enable real-time optimization of heating, cooling and other systems that use energy.4 Similarly, IT can help farmers save water, fertilizer and energy by supplying intelligence about weather, soil moisture and other growing conditions.


Beyond increased efficiency, the ultimate goal is to replace energy- and material- intensive processes—or entire business models—just as digital music distribution is quickly replacing the physical products and processes that industry has relied on for decades.

For example, HP Halo solutions already save energy and GHG emissions by replacing travel with video collaboration. One round trip from New York to London generates about 1,250 kg (2,750 pounds) of carbon dioxide per person. Imagine the positive impact on the environment as increasing numbers of people meet via Halo instead of traveling around the globe for meetings. We have recently adapted Halo technology to create SkyRoom, now available on our Workstation PCs, eliminating the need for a dedicated conference room. (See case studies.)

Other HP applications save energy by conserving paper. Traditional printing methods are wasteful. Up to 25 percent of traditionally produced book stock is unsold.5 In the United States, 2.3 billion magazines sent to newsstands in 2007 were never read. All that paper, as well as the energy used to produce it and print the publications, is wasted. Digital printing, using HP products such as Indigo presses, minimizes overruns, reducing wasted energy. MagCloud, an HP web-based service, allows anyone to produce professional-quality magazines on demand. (See case studies.)

And HP is leveraging breakthroughs in photonics that use light to transmit data, dramatically reducing energy consumption while increasing bandwidth. We’re starting to implement this technology in our blade servers; the next step is to use the same technology for intra-chip communication. In addition to saving energy while in use, photonics will reduce the need for copper, which translates to less energy used in mining and smelting copper and less waste from those processes.

These innovations present HP and its customers exciting opportunities to decrease energy use. But a larger effort is required—across the industry, businesses and government agencies—to fully capitalize on these advancements. The goal is nothing less than a transformation in the way we use energy.

HP sees cities redesigned with energy as the organizing principle, materials measured in terms of their total energy cost, and power and other services dynamically provisioned. We see a world where networks of billions of embedded sensors act as a “Central Nervous System for the Earth” to dynamically distribute energy in real time. HP Labs is working on technology that could help make this a reality with CeNSE, a highly intelligent network of billions and eventually trillions of nano-scale sensors that could continually monitor and communicate masses of information, so data can be analyzed and acted upon quickly. (See case study.)

Information will be the most precious resource in the 21st century. We must harness it to use energy more efficiently. In a world where demands and supplies often don’t match up, technology can help create a more sustainable global society.

  1. 1International Energy Outlook 2009 non-HP site,” U.S. Energy Information Administration. May 27, 2009.
  2. 2EPA Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency link to PDF non-HP site,” U.S. EPA, August 2, 2007.
  3. 3Revolutionizing Data Center Energy Efficiency link to PDF non-HP site,” McKinsey & Company, July 2008.
  4. 4 World Business Council for Sustainable Development non-HP site.
  5. 5 “Findings from the U.S. Book Industry: Environmental Trends and Climate Impacts,” page 31. Book Industry Study Group and Green Press Initiative, 2008.