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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Energy Efficiency, Energy Security or Climate Change – The Objectives Matter

Common wisdom has it that the environmental sustainability case needs to be presented differently in different regions. It is all a means to the same end. Climate change is a good lead in Europe, but energy security needs to be the lead play in the USA and energy efficiency in China. I agree, but only to a point.

The three objectives have different end games. For climate change it is climate stabilization at safe levels. For energy security it is a level of independence from outside sources. For energy efficiency it has to come down to a cost benefit. I could certainly envisage countries that can achieve energy independence and cost effective energy efficiency without us achieving climate change stabilization – perhaps even the USA. Some say that doesn’t matter in the short term as long as action is being taken, but I think it can make a significant difference to operational decisions too.

The data center manager being guided only by energy efficiency is not going to consider alternative energy sources unless they are significantly less expensive and easier to manage. And if energy prices drop in the short term the main driver for action is removed.

The data center manager being guided only by energy security may not pay due attention to efficiency, but may be willing to pay a premium for alternative on-site sources (low carbon or otherwise) for resiliency of supply.

The data center manager being guided only by a carbon reduction objective may jump straight to renewables (or simply resort to offsets) without paying due attention to energy efficiency.

The most complete response will come from a climate change objective. And the proper response is first to address energy efficiency and then low carbon energy sources. Climate change objectives also demand consideration be given to data center location to ensure low carbon grid energy and take into account the future effects of climate change by avoiding regions where flooding or temperature rise is anticipated.

The CIO and the IT team should be clear on why they are taking action on energy usage as the first step in building their plan.

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