Student-led ‘green computing’ effort could mean huge energy savings

Instituting a campus-wide ‘sleep’ policy would reduce emissions, save money

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A. Sue Weisler

Ian Mikutel (right) and Daniel Lampie were tired of seeing idle computers wasting energy, so they did something about it. Their proposal could reduce computer energy consumption on campus by 66 percent.

It has frustrated Ian Mikutel and Daniel Lampie for years. Time after time, they’d wander by various RIT computer labs late at night and see computer power lights on. Those lights signified the burning of energy—and the burning of their tuition dollars.

“It’s a really visible problem across campus,” says Mikutel, a fourth-year information technology major. “Students see these computers powered on at all hours and wonder why. There’s really no reason for it.”

Mikutel and Lampie decided to do something about it. The two met with Chief Information Officer Jeanne Casares, who informed them that the university did not have a campus-wide policy forcing computers to be set in ‘sleep’ mode when not in use. But she did think the idea was worth exploring.

The two students began working with Information and Technology Services and Facilities Management Services staff members to investigate the possibility. A power meter was installed in Nathaniel Rochester Hall’s computer lab to determine how much energy was consumed under its existing set-up. After three weeks, the meter measured energy consumption with a sleep mode set-up. Enabling sleep mode resulted in a 66 percent decrease in power.

“We’ve proven that we can do this successfully,” says Lampie, a fifth-year telecommunications engineering technology major. “We can save energy and students don’t see any impact on their day-to-day activity in the labs.”

Information and Technology Services has estimated that there are more than 1,600 Windows-based desktops in computer labs across campus. There are also more than 2,000 faculty and staff computers. Enabling sleep mode on each of these computers would result in avoiding more than 186 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions—the equivalent of burning 20,800 gallons of gasoline. It would also save RIT an estimated $20,000 to $60,000 annually.

Mikutel and Lampie recently presented their proposal to RIT’s Committee on Sustainable Practices, which decided to begin implementing it immediately. The two students will meet with college deans and their systems administrators in the coming weeks to explain the process.

“We’re both graduating in another month,” says Mikutel. “We want to see results—we want to see something happen before we graduate. We’re going to push to see buy-in and implementation before the end of the academic year.”

Converting the labs to sleep mode will be the easy part, the students say. The more challenging aspect will be getting individual faculty and staff members with office computers to make the switch.

“It’s easy to get eight system administrators on board,” Lampie says. “It’s much harder to get more than 2,000 faculty and staff members to buy-in. But all they have to do is check their power settings and make sure sleep mode is enabled. It makes a huge difference.”