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January 23, 2003

Computer sleep mode saves $$$

While screen-saver icons of flying toasters and swimming goldfish make computers fun to look at when not in use, they do absolutely nothing to conserve energy. Pitt administrators have launched a campaign to alert computer users about a simple to obtain — and free — alternative.

As part of a larger Pitt effort to conserve energy, the Division of Facilities Management and office of Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD) are offering free energy-saving software to the Pitt community.

Pitt has joined the Energy Star federal program, a partnership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that promotes energy conservation.

A new web site — — provides faculty, staff and students access to software and instructions to put their computers at Pitt into low-power “sleep mode” when they are not in use.

“Sleep mode differs from screen-saver programs, which merely prevent images from burning into a monitor screen while doing nothing to save energy,” said Jinx Walton, director of CSSD. “In fact, screen-savers that display moving images cause a computer to use as much power as when it is in use.”

Members of the Pitt community also are invited to use the software on their home computers, Walton added.

“Consumption of energy at the University is going up, mirroring a worldwide trend,” said Ana Guzman, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management. “We have more computers and more research equipment, plus we’re installing central air conditioning in buildings like the Cathedral of Learning.”

Pitt’s total annual energy bill is more than $14 million, she said, about 60 percent of which is for electricity, including the powering of campus water chillers.

Guzman said the U.S. Department of Energy expects overall energy consumption in the country to go up between 1.5 and 2 percent per year between now and 2020. “The good news is that, with conservation, maybe we won’t need to purchase as much energy. The Department of Energy says that as much as half of our total energy in this country can be saved through conservation efforts,” she said.

By simply activating the sleep mode software, Guzman said, Pitt could save up to $500,000 a year, or nearly half of the annual energy costs for the Pittsburgh campus’s estimated 26,000 computers.

As a test case, Pitt studied a computer lab in Posvar Hall with and without the sleep mode software activated. The study compared seven-day, heavy-use periods in April and September 2002 in the computer lab.

The sleep mode software saved the University almost half the kilowatt use over a seven-day period (1,921 kilowatts compared to 1,000 kilowatts) for the lab’s 60 computers, Guzman said.

Installing the sleep mode software is “fairly simple,” Walton said, “so we’re looking to individuals to do this. Our effort is to bring to their attention that the software is there and all they have to do is get on the web site.”

The sleep mode software does not affect computer performance or network connections, and monitors can be re-activated by pressing any key or touching the mouse, Walton added.

Pitt plans to blanket the campus with sleep mode reminders, Guzman said. “We’ll have posters in all the dorms, and we are sending University people — faculty and staff — a brochure with information,” she said.

Walton said that residential consultants, part of the computer services group, will be providing one-on-one assistance for students. “Res-cons work with individual students on particular problems, and they will be armed with all this information, so they will tell students they should activate this and will be in a position to do it for them, when asked,” Walton said.

For instructions on activating the screen sleep mode software, visit Questions about the conservation program can be e-mailed to For technical assistance, call Pitt’s 24-hour technology Help Desk at 412/624-4357.

“This campaign is just one of the many efforts the University is making to conserve energy,” Guzman said, “including equipping buildings with motion sensor lighting, better electric metering and sophisticated controls and energy management systems that allow us to adjust temperatures in buildings at night and on weekends.”

Pitt’s using a four-point strategy, she said, to help off-set rising energy costs:

• Encourage users to conserve;

• Increase efficiency of mechanical systems;

• Operate energy systems more efficiently, and

• Purchase energy competitively.

(For more details on the University’s energy plans, see University Times, May 2, 2002.)

As new buildings go up, including Sennott Square and the Petersen Events Center, and as classrooms and labs are renovated, the latest equipment is being installed, Guzman said. Pitt will install central air conditioning in the Cathedral of Learning over the next several years, and motion sensors, electric metering, temperature controls and new sprinklers will be included as part of the project, she said.

According to John R. Schenk, Pitt senior manager of systems and energy management, newly installed electric metering in particular better positions the University for buying electricity. “Right now we’re developing our energy profile,” Schenk said. “It will take me a year to get a year’s data. Before I can go to a contractor and say, ‘This is what we’ll need for the whole year,’ I’ve got to have the data. But it will be worth it. Even a tenth of a cent per unit savings can be very significant for us, because we use millions of kilowatt hours a year.”

“All the new metering in our electric system is going to help us understand the actual consumption of energy in a particular building at different times of the day and different days of the week,” Guzman said. Since rates fluctuate depending on the time for which electricity is purchased, “the more information we can give our suppliers, the better our prices will be,” she said.

Schenk said Pitt also is in the process of developing a system to supply “free” cooling for air conditioning from outside air during particularly cold days.

Pitt has two chilled water systems — one that originates from the Petersen Events Center and one from Posvar Hall. “We’re in the process of connecting the two systems, so that I can move cooling from one direction to the other,” Schenk said. “We use air conditioning chilled water on campus year-round, some of it is to cool computer labs that are in operation 24 hours. In Posvar, we’re putting in a system whereby I don’t have to run a chiller on some cold days. I just pump water up through my tower, it comes down through the heat exchanger, and I have my ‘free’ chilled water by using only outside air. Once I get my free cooler running, and the systems are connected, I can actually cool the Petersen Center from Posvar.”

Other state-of-the-art energy management systems will allow Pitt to more efficiently measure and control energy use by building, Schenk said. To date, 30 Pittsburgh campus buildings have been equipped with the new systems. Facilities Management currently is installing them in Thackeray Hall and the Cathedral of Learning, he said.

In its recently renovated Cathedral classrooms, Pitt has installed motion and infrared occupancy sensors that control temperature and lighting, while complying with federal codes mandating periodic outside-to-inside airflow, Schenk said.

Technology will soon be available that measures a room’s carbon dioxide level, which may lead to modified federal codes on required airflow, he added.

“We’re looking at the big picture,” Guzman said,” which includes the federal government, pollution controls for the environment, codes and regulations, costs of energy, alternative energy sources” and other factors. “It’s crucial for the University’s operations not only to have electricity, but to have reliable electricity, especially for our labs.” She said Pitt owns its electrical distribution system, which has five substations around campus. “This is good, because we can maintain it, and we know where problem areas might be and it’s all underground and not susceptible to storms. We can flip over to a redundant system at any time and not lose power. But with increased demands, especially in labs, we have to have a system that is reliable, and so we’re also looking into purchasing emergency generators [with increased capacity].”

Guzman said that Pitt’s overall energy plans are not aimed at saving a specific amount of energy or money. “We can’t really do that, because we don’t know what’s coming next,” she said. “We need to find out trends. We’re going to know more when we find out our consumption, which buildings use the most energy and so on, using the very sophisticated metering we’re installing.”

—Peter Hart

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