Energy is the lifeblood of any telecommunications service, yet energy use is rarely optimized within technical facilities. With the notable exception of major datacenters, technical facilities commonly lack rigorous energy management practices.
Energy Use in Technical Facilities: Displacing 6 Common Misconceptions
By David Young and Barrett Levenson
Energy is the lifeblood of any telecommunications service, yet energy use is rarely optimized within technical facilities. With the notable exception of major datacenters, technical facilities commonly lack rigorous energy management practices. Few technical sites – including central offices, headends, hubs, tandems, mobile switching centers, POPs, and mixed-use facilities – have the necessary systems, people, and processes to maintain service quality while minimizing energy spend. But change is coming. Margin pressures, rising energy prices, and exploding traffic growth are driving TMT players to challenge established misconceptions and reconsider operational practices around energy.
Energy Use in Technical Facilities – 6 Misconceptions
Energy management and conservation has become a focal point for the TMT industry, but common misconceptions about energy use are preventing effective action. Conditions in a typical technical facility (non-datacenter) are described below in terms of energy use and energy management. These are framed against common misconceptions that may be held by executive stakeholders. Correcting these potential misconceptions will be key to winning support for investment in energy management and for changes to current practices.
Misconception #1: Energy use is actively monitored and managed
We have observed that onsite personnel, including both operations and facilities team members, rarely have ready access to energy spend or consumption data. And even more infrequently is this information used to make routine operational decisions. Unlike datacenter environments, where PUE is routinely measured, there is no equivalent KPI within Telco, MSO, CLEC, or MNO environments. In day-to-day operations, energy availability & uptime is closely managed, but the cost & efficiency of energy is rarely considered.
Misconception #2: Bill tracking reveals most inefficiencies
Careful bill tracking and bill analysis can allow operators to closely monitor and even forecast their energy spend. But we have found clients with active bill tracking programs that have material (>20%) operational energy-based inefficiencies. Utility data – comprised of daily or monthly snapshots of energy use at the site level – is insufficiently granular to permit robust cause-and-effect analysis of energy efficiency. The impact of an investment in a high-efficiency cooling system at one particular facility could be countered by the impact of a particularly hot summer. Unless bill tracking is combined with energy sub-metering and site-level baselining, the impact of specific energy-savings initiatives cannot be measured.
Misconception #3: Most energy use is for production
Though this may be true in high-performing datacenters, it is generally not true at other technical facilities. We have found that less than half the power is typically consumed by network and IT equipment. The remainder of energy use at technical sites derives from cooling, heating, lighting, plug loads, and power conversion & distribution. Verizon has observed a similar distribution. The scale and importance of non-production loads suggests that operators need to look beyond network and IT energy use – through a holistic view of each site – in order to maximize savings opportunities.
Misconception #4: You can't save on energy without sacrificing service quality
The need to maintain high levels of service availability is frequently used as justification for over-spending on energy. A commonly held view is that “nobody ever got fired for keeping a technical space too cold.” Indeed, in our experience, many sites operate with excess cooling and an oversupply of power conversion and distribution equipment. This is particularly true given that newer equipment is typically more power-efficient and capable of operating at higher temperatures. Inefficiencies in network and IT assets themselves frequently go unnoticed because of the lack of attention to ongoing energy consumption. The emergence of new analytical tools now allows operators to solve for multiple constraints simultaneously, maintaining service quality (power conversion and cooling requirements), while operating in an energy-efficient manner. And by extension, greater energy efficiency is possible without compromising employee comfort, both in technical spaces and in people spaces.
Misconception #5: Energy efficiency starts and ends with capital projects
Facilities that have already implemented common capital-intensive efficiency measures – such as efficient lighting, free air cooling, and high-efficiency HVAC – are often assumed to be efficient. But these isolated improvements do not guarantee that a site is running at or near its maximum potential in terms of energy efficiency. Through technical audits, we have observed highly modern LEED Gold certified facilities which harbor energy inefficiencies in excess of 15%. A holistic approach is required – one that considers the operating efficiency of each energy-consuming asset (including mechanical, network, and IT assets), the operation of these assets, and the interplay between assets at a site level.
Misconception #6: Each site is unique, so all solutions are site-specific
A common misconception is that savings measures are unique to each facility, and therefore cannot be scaled efficiently across a large diverse real estate portfolio. Indeed, the combination of each facility’s layout, installed production and mechanical assets, geography, construction type, age, and business demands, lead to many unique environments. In our experience however, sources of inefficiency are often common, and therefore addressable with common approaches. The development of corporate best practices, and the application of these practices to individual sites is possible through a combination of technology and process.
These observations are informed by our and our partners’ experience through visits to hundreds of sites, plus discussions and review of data from ILEC/PTT, MSO, MNO, and CLEC clients spanning thousands of technical facilities.
These misperceptions allow significant energy waste to persist within most technical sites. Operational practices within service providers also contribute, since most practices were developed when energy was far less expensive, and when services were less energy-intensive. Every communications, technology and media organization should develop an informed view of its energy spending, drivers of energy use, and associated policies. Cartesian recommends a holistic approach to energy management, driven by analytics. Cartesian is committed to helping our clients understand and optimize their energy spending through a combination of professional services and technology solutions.
 Dana Cooperson. “Increased focus on network power consumption to lower opex, go green” Ovum, 2009.