September 7, 2012 in Business

Spokane Public Schools district software pays big dividends

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Network administrators for the Spokane Public Schools district spent $104,000 in 2009 to slash energy consumption on 10,000 of its 13,000 computers.

The money purchased a software installation that shuts down office or classroom computers after a set period of inactivity. Many teachers and staff tend to leave PCs on all the time, said Steve Payne, district tech manager.

The return on the initial investment has been evident and immediate. The school district is achieving $121,000 in savings each year by having the shutdown software installed, Payne said.

The program, named Surveyor, comes from Seattle firm Verdiem.

Even better for the school district: A $100,000 Avista energy-efficiency rebate covered most of the cost of Verdiem, said Dan Wordell, the district’s technology supervisor.

“It works really good – so good that we got complaints at first because it was shutting down PCs people wanted to keep running into the night,” Wordell said.

The same software is used by the city of Spokane on 1,300 of its computers, producing an annual savings of about $15,000, said Michael Sloon, the city’s information systems manager.

“Shutting down PCs using software is one of the easiest, lowest-hanging fruit options businesses or groups have to cut costs,” said Jeff Warner, sales manager for California-based Verismic, which produces a competing product to manage computer power use.

Industry energy audits suggest that shutting down computers that normally are on all the time, using preset schedules, can save as much as $60 per year per PC.

Yet not that many companies are adopting power-management tools inside their offices, Warner said. “That’s because most IT managers feel they’re already trying to do too much” said Warner.

A small portion of Avista’s roughly $7 million last year in electricity rebates for its business customers was for tools like Verdiem. The largest share of 2011 rebates was for lighting replacements and for upgrades to mechanical systems that control lighting, heating or air conditioning.

For instance, some school districts have adopted sensor-controlled lighting that will dim some lights in a room nearest a window, said Ann Carey, an Avista account executive.

Incentives provided by Avista rebates are an effort to lower the total amount of power the utility needs to produce.

“Such (energy) savings are important because that is energy that can be used to serve other customers. In other words, it is additional energy that doesn’t need to be generated or purchased,” said Avista spokeswoman Debbie Simock.

The sorts of controls developed to shut down PCs is relatively basic, compared to technology systems that Avista is hoping more businesses adopt. For instance, Avista is encouraging food or grocery stores to adopt lighting systems that turn on when a customer approaches a closed display case.

“When a person comes up to the display case, the motion sensor will turn on the LED lights inside the case,” Carey said. Other systems can adjust the energy used to refrigerate a case depending on the ambient temperature in the building, she added.


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