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alternative energy, environment, sustainability
Comments Off on Sustainability Case Study for Small-to-Medium Business

This week I was lucky to be able to participate in the American Public Transportation Association’s 2011 Sustainability Workshop.  This time the workshop really seemed to get its focus around sustainability initiatives that could work for every agency and business partner – not just the really large agencies.  It is always impressive to see what entities like New York MTA and San Francisco Muni can accomplish.  But this does not always translate well to the smaller guys.  And sustainability by its very nature will make greater progress if it is permeated through smaller agencies as well.

 

I started participating in this workshop just three short years ago.  In that time, the North County Transit District has gone from no sustainability initiatives, to a comprehensive portfolio of work – most of which has driven significant operating cost savings for the agency and lead to smarter decisions and business plans.

 

To me, sustainability is not a political movement.  It is not a badge of honor.  It is not a marketing campaign.  It is a means to ensure we can continue to deliver on our primary mandate as a company – to provide safe access for our community to their education, jobs, doctors, grocery stores…  It is a means to ensure that over the long run, NCTD can exist.  Good for the environment, good for our employees, and good for our community.

alternative energy, energy consumption, public transit
Comments Off on NCTD wins Stimulus Green Transit Solar Grant

by Angela Miller
I am very excited to say that yesterday we heard through a press release that we were one of the Public Transit entities chosen by the US Department of Transportation to receive part of the funding from the green transit portion of the stimulus program.  One of the hats I am happy to wear at the District is that of leading the Sustainability program for the District.  I’ve previously blogged about attending some of the APTA Sustainability meetings, and on our desire to create a plan for the District.  But this is the largest sustainability project I’ve been able to facilitate since my arrival at the District.

This grant will allow the District to build on its basic commitment to the three elements of sustainability:  economic, social, and environmental.  We were awarded $2 million to build on our plan by investing in more innovative solar power installations at the District, and in to install plug-in vehicle charging stations at some of our rail parking facilities for our customers. 

The application process was highly competitive, with only $100 million available for Green Transit initiatives across the entire United States.  My organization was one of 43 entities receiving the funding, and received one of the largest awards in acknowledgement of the business case and ROI analysis put forth.  The project includes:

  • Demonstrating the feasibility of deploying solar technology in the Rail right-of-way, thus leveraging space that cannot be utilized for other purposes.  Makes idle property more productive and possibly revenue-generating
  • We will also be installing solar at maintenance and administrative facilities to offset power needs at those locations.
  • Deploying parking spaces with charging units for plug-in vehicles as a value to our customers.
  • Installing solar carports at some parking lots to both provide power and provide better parking options to our customers. 

This grant award is part of an overall commitment to sustainability that includes other steps like an energy-efficient data center, replacing parking lot lights with more efficient options, the creation of a new Compressed Natural Gas fueling station, our approach to transit-oriented design for transit centers and stations, the use of solar along the COASTER right-of-way to power our wireless security system, the replacement of older buses with CNG-powered vehicles, paratransit, and our commitment to being a long-term sustainability partner with the communities we serve.

by Angela Miller
Well today came the unfortunate news that my web hosting service provider is going out of business. Greenesthost.com was the only entity that I could find 2 years ago focused on delivering a solar-powered, truly green hosting environment. All of the other players I researched were meeting their sustainability target through purchased carbon offsets. This seemed to me – while a positive step – far less progressive than the greenesthost model of constructing a facility powered exclusively with alternative energy.

But alas not all that is green is gold. The company stopped accepting new customers a little over a month ago, and today the letter came with the sad news that in September all lights will turn off.

I have chosen to move to AISO.net. They also now offset all of their power demand with their own solar installation. They have provided a nice analysis of their estimated reduction of carbon output based on the solar installation which was certified by the USEPA.

This was interesting to me because not only would we like to provide some analysis of what we’ll offset with our solar installation at NCTD, we would also like to investigate some consistent methology for comparing an individual ride with a public transit ride between destinations.

alternative energy, carbon offset, data center, energy consumption
Comments Off on IT Department to Offset Power with Solar Installation

by Angela Miller
Today we inked the deal that was two-years in the making:  we are officially installing solar panels at our administrative offices.  The intent is to at least offset the estimated power demands of the data center over the next 10 years of anticipated growth.  In speaking with various solar vendors, and with our data center installation firm, we feel this is an achievable goal.

With the incentives still offered at the federal and state level, and working with our local utility company SDG&E, the business case for solar is a viable one.  In a time when my agency – like so many across the State of California – is facing dramatic pressures on our operating budget, any capital investment that potentially decreases monthly operating expenses deserves a serious look. 

We have two phases of this plan – we’ll install solar panels on the roof of the building, which turns out to be an ideal location.  Not every building meets our criteria – we have significant open space, our roof was repaired recently with a material that is reflective, and our utility sheds are relatively short.  These design elements make our roof highly suitable for a solar installation.

The second phase of our project will install carport solar panels in our public parking lot.  Our existing lot was designed at a time when there were fewer requirements for heat dissipation.  Our black asphalt parking lot gets quite hot during most months, and installation of solar panels will mitigate some of this problem.  We are also making good use of otherwise non-revenue generating space.

This project is a stimulus project through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  There is significant pressure on governmental entities to use this money responsibly, transparently, and according to the terms of the intent of the act.  I believe this project meets all of the objectives of the program:  it is a shovel-ready construction project, a long-term capital improvement, beneficially changes the operations of public transit in the community, installs technology that decreases operating costs, provides jobs during the project, invests in green technology, and completes in a timely fashion to stimulate the local economy.

While the solar projects added cost to our data center redesign project, the investment had a solid business case, with a six-year payback period.  An additional consideration was the increasing carbon footprint of the technology resources at the District.  This investment not only pays off from a fiscal perspective, but also an environmental one.

My message to IT people is to think bigger than our data centers.  We have the opportunity to improve our company’s bottom line not only through our core IT investments, but also in how we choose to construct and improve the buildings that house that technology.  Work with your facility managers to become more creative in solving data center problems.

alternative energy, data center, green computing
Comments Off on APTA TransITech Presentation

by Angela Miller
A few months ago I wrote a post about attending an American Public Transportation Association meeting on Sustainability and how I felt out of place as the only IT person in the room.  Today I had yet another lonely experience.  I was the only person in the collection of IT professionals in public transit focused on green technology. 

I gave a presentation on how transit entities can take small steps to make incremental progress toward greening their data center.   I’m not sure that my observations could compete with the more exciting presentations like iPhone applications and Google Transit.  But I think the slide that showed how making a simple change in our desktops and monitors had actual dollar savings and a measurable reduction in our carbon footprint made some impression.

alternative energy, infrastructure
Comments Off on Can a security system be green?

solarpanelby Angela Miller
One of the systems we’re building at NCTD is a security system for our COASTER commuter rail that extends for over 40 miles from Oceanside to San Diego, California.  The geek in me is excited about this project from a pure technology perspective:  the ability to monitor activities in and around the vehicle while it is moving at 60 miles an hour, well that’s a real technology challenge.  Our solution along the rail is a mesh network.

We have a series of ‘nodes’ that we’re installing at about 1 mile intervals that provide a wireless infrastructure along the rail.  With that network, we can then install other wireless devices – for example cameras, or VOIP devices.  But what would this have to do with being green?

Our approach to these nodes has been to install solar panels at each node.  On the one hand this is simple practicality because some sites are very remote and far from existing power sources.  But, for more than half of the nodes we could have chosen to plug into wired power sources.  So as a CIO, I had to make a choice- use solar or use grid power?

The business case is not so straight forward.  While we will save power using the solar, we incur higher installation and maintenance costs to ensure the solar systems provide consistent, reliable power to each node.  We cannot claim that we chose to use solar simply because it was the greener choice – that would be a deceptive message.  However, I can say that as the CIO I had the architectural design choice to go with either solution and chose solar – it seemed to be the more stable choice, and the choice that would still operate if we had a power outage, and yes when all solutions were compared it was the more sustainable, environmentally-friendly approach. 

So I leave it in the reader’s mind – perhaps security at NCTD is green, and perhaps not.  You be the judge.

greenesthost

by Angela Miller
This week the ecology.IT blog officially moved to a web hosting service that is 100% solar-powered. GreenestHost.com was featured in Ted Samson’s blog 2 weeks ago and officially came online on August 6, 2007.

A couple of things impressed me about this company:

  • They worked closely with vendors including AMD, VMWare, and Freus, to ensure they both chose the right technology and configured it appropriately for optimal energy efficiency and cooling.
  • They worked with a mature company (AISO) to develop a web-hosting service built on a solid foundation.
  • They deployed a solar environment that is self-sufficient and integrated with a battery system for use at night.

While this is not an endorsement or recommendation that everyone should switch to Greenesthost.com as a service provider, it does highlight that there is business sense in establishing and offering green computing technologies.

alternative energy, carbon offset, data center, energy consumption, renewable energy credit
Comments Off on Green IT: Carbon Offsets

by Angela Miller
Carbon offsets are another solid option for companies that wish to green their IT department. It is possible to estimate the carbon load or footprint generated by the IT department on an annual basis and then invest in carbon offsets through a company or non-profit that sells certified emission reduction certificates. Again these certificates fund investment in net new renewable energy sources that would generate the same amount of electricity required to power the IT department on an annual basis only with zero carbon emissions.

Carbon trading became extremely active over the last two years and carbon offsets are easily available through a variety of reputable sources. An article on AdvancedTrading.com focused on the increased and robust trading in ‘carbon futures’ and how the trend is dramatically increasing.

It is important for companies to realize that purchasing carbon offsets does not provide a tangible and sustainable benefit to their company beyond the ability to market to their employees and customers that they are now ‘carbon neutral.’ But in a climate where customers are growing more concerned about how green their service providers and suppliers are, being carbon neutral could be a differentiator.

I am assuming that simply posting that companies should consider carbon offsets as a valuable tool in their green computing strategy will engender comments both from people who feel that they are nothing more than ‘buying your conscience so you can pollute more instead of addressing the problem’ and those who believe they are a smokescreen and a waste of money that could be invested in other IT improvements instead. I disagree with both of these stances and instead believe that any steps toward investing in new, cleaner technologies will have tangible long-term benefit for all. It is important that companies purchase carbon offsets from entities that are both reputable and that commit to real investment instead of simple futures trading. A few examples include (not a personal endorsement, but a list of entities I’ve researched):

TerraPass
The Gold Standard
ClimateTrust

For a report about the efficacy of carbon offset entities, check out the report information at Clean Air-Cool Planet.

Dig deeper on the issues:

I relied on the following sites for analysis in support of this post:
www.tekrati.com
Advanced Trading
Clean Air-Cool Planet
United States Environmental Protection Agency

alternative energy, green computing
Comments Off on Green Computing: Alternative Energy Sourcing

by Angela Miller
While most IT departments would invest only in the basics of green computing based efficiency or cost savings, more advance companies will want to take their environmental initiatives further. These companies would potentially add environmental criteria to their IT projects- especially those that include purchasing new hardware where measurable, objective metrics on performance and manufacturing practice could be evaluated.

IT marketing research firm Forrester featured three analyses of green computing between April and May 2007: “Why Green IT Should Feature in Sourcing Plans” (Davis), “The Greening of IT” (Mines), and “Tapping Buyers Growing Interest in Green IT” (Mines). Each of these analyses highlighted the growing interest in green IT, and their conclusions were unsurprising—many forward-thinking, large companies placed environmental issues high on their list of corporate social responsibility initiatives; but most companies focused on Green IT as a matter of economics rather than ecology:

“We would do green because it makes business sense, not because it’s green. It would have to show cost savings.” – CIO quote to Forrester in “Tapping Buyers Growing Interest in Green IT” (Mines, May 2007, Copyright © 2007, Forrester Research, Inc.)

My previous post focus on the steps that the companies highlighted by Forrester could follow in order to meet their basic green IT needs driven by cost savings. This post takes another step down the green computing road by discussing a more advanced concept- Alternative Energy Sourcing.

Alternative Energy Sourcing

Many utilities now offer business customers the option of purchasing power which includes either a partial or 100% mix of renewable energy sources. For example, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power now offers customers the ability to choose Green Power for a premium of $0.03 per kilowatt hour of power. The State of California specifically has incentives to encourage utilities to invest in net new renewable energy sources and the companies use the premiums to assist in investing in the new construction.

Investment in alternative energy sourcing does not have a positive financial impact for an IT department. In fact, many companies might find it a tough sell at an enterprise level to pay the significantly higher costs of a 100% alternative energy mix. For small-to-medium businesses, however, such an investment could be small and worth the minor cost increase while for larger organizations a mix of less than 100% could still provide the opportunity to take steps toward greener IT.

Companies interested in investigating alternative energy sourcing should start by reviewing the US EPA guidelines here.