Do More With Less: Cut energy costs with Energy Star's EZ Wizard

Find out how to save energy and money with this utility

As a full-time technical consultant and writer who works from home, my house is jam-packed with more computers than I care to count. While having a plethora of computers allows me to cover a wide range of applications and operating systems, the by-product is an above-average electricity bill. Sure, Windows offers a variety of power-management options, and there’s always the option of shutting off the machines.

But my network is a fairly complex setup consisting of multiple domains, DNS servers, mail servers, routers, and just about anything else you would expect a true geek to have. When I cold-boot everything, it takes well over an hour to get all the machines up and running because certain servers must be booted in a specific order. It’s just easier to leave everything running and pay the high electricity bills. However, EZ Wizard from Energy Star may lower my electricity bills as well as those of much bigger companies.

Turning off monitors can lead to big savings
In all fairness, I have only a couple dozen computers. Furthermore, I live in South Carolina, which has some of the lowest utility costs in the country. Many larger companies, though, have thousands of computers and are located in areas with much more expensive utilities. I knew that these big companies were paying a lot for utilities, but I never realized how much.

According to the Energy Star Web site, if an organization with 1,000 computer monitors turned them off at night, it could save about 200,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. In some parts of the country, this would mean a savings of roughly $17,000 per year in electric bills. You can imagine the savings for companies with several thousand computers. Furthermore, using flat-panel monitors rather than traditional CRT monitors can reduce electricity costs even more.

Turn off those monitors with EZ Wizard
If organizations can really save all of this money by turning off computer monitors when they aren’t being used, the million-dollar question is, How do you get users to turn off their monitors at night? This is where EZ Wizard can help by activating a monitor’s power-saving features. EZ Wizard uses the existing power-management functionality of Windows 95/98/Me/2000/XP. Windows NT does not support power management.

Admittedly, I don’t run any power-management software on my machines because it seems that the power-saving mode always kicks in at the worst moments. For example, how often have you been in the middle of a download and had the computer go to sleep on you? Furthermore, I don’t want my servers to ever sleep. Up to this point, I had been really turned off by most power-management software. However, I like EZ Wizard because it gives users power management on their terms.

EZ Wizard turns off only your system’s monitor, not the CPU. Fortunately, the monitor is by far the component that consumes the most electricity. When you run EZ Wizard, it explains that leaving monitors turned on while at lunch, in a meeting, or at other times when the monitor is not really being used is a huge electricity waster. The wizard then asks if it is okay to enable Energy Star power management for the monitor.

The next screen you’ll see asks how long the system should be idle before the monitor goes to sleep. The choices are 10, 15, and 20 minutes, as shown in Figure A. Shorter time periods save more electricity, but longer time periods mean that you're less likely to be in the middle of trying to read something on the screen when the monitor shuts down.

Figure A

After choosing a time limit, just click the wizard’s Next and Finish buttons, and the Energy Star power management will activate. That’s all there is to it.

How practical is Energy Star power management?
Obviously, enabling power management is simple to do on a single PC, but those with a single PC aren’t the ones suffering the outrageous power bills caused by leaving monitors turned on. So the real question is, how practical is it to implement the Energy Star power-management software in a large organization?

It's actually quicker and easier than you might think. The wizard is designed to be integrated into an organization’s intranet or e-mailed to all users in an organization. Users can then run the wizard and answer the wizard’s single question regarding how long the computer should be idle prior to the monitor going to sleep.

One of the more fascinating real-world case studies involved Tulane University’s Kennedy School of Government. The school had roughly 800 computers and had considered the amount of electricity it was consuming. The problem was that the costs involved in getting IT staff to enable power management on each PC seemed to far outweigh the energy savings.

When EZ Wizard became available, the school took another look at power management. In the end, it was able to fully implement the software in about half a day through the efforts of a single person. As a result, the school is saving about 160,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. That’s enough electricity to power 180 homes for a month. The savings are estimated to be $14,000 per year.

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