Friday, December 18, 2009

Lights are turning green!

I was out driving the other night when through the snow-laden clouds came a sudden burst of sunlight that created spectacular lighting effects! For just a brief moment the sky turned every color, from red through orange to yellow with splashes of violet and mauve thrown in as well. I was able to get off a snapshot of the sunset, as I approached Golden, Colorado, and I have included it to the left.

Natural lighting effects always provide us with a treat, and on those occasions when we see something special, it stays with us for many years. On a trip to SATUG, a few years back, there was a reception on a river cruise where we were treated to a colorful evening sunset that I will remember for many years. And on a flight from San Francisco to London, the Sunday evening that the San Francisco 49er’s were playing in their last Superbowl, I was fortunate enough to have a window seat. On the port side!

Leaning back against the airplane fuselage, straining to pick up the commentary on my airline headphones, as the signal faded I glimpsed the northern lights for the first time from a plane. I stopped trying to follow the game and just absorbed the beauty of the Aurora Borealis. Probably at its very best at that time of year and I was fortunate to find myself in the right place, at the right time.

At this time of year however, with Christmas only days away, the streets are full of strings of colored lights. Margo and I took the long way home last night, and turned into every cul-de-sac just to take a look at the festive decorations draped from rooftop gables and chimney stacks - some homeowners had gone a little overboard! The amount of energy consumed had to be substantial and, for the first time that I could recall, there was ample evidence this year of the “greening of the ‘burbs!”, as many of the light displays incorporated LED’s!

There have been many advertisements this year promoting the benefits from using LED’s and of the energy savings that came from using LEDs. Our local TV station has decorated its entire premises with nothing but LED lights for big savings on their monthly energy bill. Not just for use with decorations, LED’s are becoming more popular with any lighting application. The last car I bought featured extensive use of LED technology in the front and rear of the car. Car designers now have so many more options with the availability of LED’s, and I don’t think anyone can mistake a modern Audi, with its curved display of LED’s surrounding more traditional headlight enclosures, as it drives towards you!

I was reminded of all of this when I caught up with my good friend Adam Rubey. He owns the company Acoustic Visions that wired my Boulder home, installed the audio / video components, and programmed the controllers, so that even I can watch television! Adam regularly drops by with new ideas and suggestions as, after ten years, we have both come to realize I now have antiques that today could well find a home in any city museum. The monitors are still glass – not a single flat-screen in the house. No high-definition sets anywhere. The house is awash in cables and the lighting system relies solely on traditional incandescent light bulbs!

And what brought Adam to the house this time was the availability of a new generation of LED’s suitable for placement in the old fashion “cans” that pepper every ceiling in the house! Impressive enough, in terms of energy savings, that Adam has incorporated a new company (RAEnergySolitions - to aggressively pursue opportunities with LED lighting. Surely it was time for me to look at reducing my energy bills!

As I did the background research for this posting, I became aware that my old lights will be “outlawed” according to 2007 legislation signed into law by the previous president. “The incandescent light bulb, one of the most venerable inventions of its era but deemed too inefficient for our own, will be phased off the U.S. market beginning in 2012 under the new energy law just approved by Congress,” wrote journalist Marianne Lavelle in a December 19, 2007 article for US News and World Report.

While driving around Boulder, admiring the lights, I couldn’t help noticing the illumination coming from the enormous car-parks surrounding IBM’s facility at the bottom of the hill. Even through the heaviest snowstorm I can make out the rows of orange lights illuminating the vast lot. Many years ago, this facility had been the center of IBM’s printer manufacturing, but today the site has become a key data center in IBM’s consolidation initiative. IBM, in a move similar to the HP CIO Randy Mott’s, is eliminating thousands of data centers as it consolidates around just six mega-data centers, including this Boulder premise. This was going to save IBM $250 million in energy bills each year, according to ZDNett publication TechRepublic (July 31st, ’07).

I emailed Ed Sterbenc of Modius, and a long time friend of the NonStop community, to find out if data centers were capitalizing on LED lights and whether Modius were seeing any substantial replacement of lighting systems. “It is being discussed and there does seem to be some movement towards new-gen fixtures and LEDs,” he volunteered. But then Ed added “the bottom line, though, especially in a world moving toward "lights-out" operations, is that there just isn't enough consumption of power there, compared to Computer Room Air Conditioning (CRAC’s), Computer Room Air Handling (CRAH’s), and Blade Centers to generate much excitement about the incremental savings on a comparative basis.”

Why would I be interested in pursuing LED lights for my house? We can change the lights, but when compared to everything else, the savings may not be all that great! It has a lot to do with versatility and flexibility, Adam told me, adding “users can pick size, shape, color, Kelvin temperature and lumen output.” As for data centers, the potential to run off of “high voltage, low voltage, battery or solar with no I/R, no UV, and with very low heat and very little EMF,” has to be attractive and mesh well with any green plans!

In his first deployment in the area, Adam approached a local Toyota car yard. Typical for this industry, where acres of cars were on display around the large lot, bright lights bathed the rows of cars to attract prospective car buyers. He was able to swap out the entire system, replace with an LED alternative, and offer a new twist on the traditional approach to illuminating cars. Enough light was made available to highlight the car yard, but as prospective car buyers paused alongside a specific car, motion sensors would detect their presence, and communications between the lights resulted in just that individual car being bathed in a bright bean of light!

What about the data center? True, many are going to a lights-out operation – but there are times when illumination is still required. How useful would it be for the network of LEDs to be tied into the management frameworks such that, as a component failed, a path to that component would be illuminated with a bright beam targeting the item requiring attention! Perhaps it’s already deployed in some of the data centers just built.

During a “Green and Clean” event in Menlo Park, California, this past August and where Cisco, HP, and IBM shared their own experiences on “greening their data centers,” John Hailey, Cisco’s senior manager of workplace resources, talked of how he is looking ahead to new technologies, such as LED lighting, which is destined to be big and smart enough to adjust to daylight conditions and instruct nearby lights to follow suit. Hailey then added, according to a posting to TechPulse 360 (Aug 7th, 2009), “it means monitoring energy use at 600 buildings across the globe to reduce a $130 million electric bill. It means locating data centers where power is not just cheap and plentiful, but where it comes from less-polluting sources.”

We hear so much about locating data centers near alternative power sources – wind, solar, etc. and this “meshes well” with the story Adam told me. LED’s work efficiently and easily off of solar power sources. Perhaps they will play a major role inside data centers. At the very least, every data center manager should take a look at deploying them over their growing car parking acreages. This scenario did get a response from Ed Sturbenc, “as a long time amateur astronomer, I sure appreciate the effect the directional LEDs are having on the night sky!”

Wherever the deployment of LEDs takes place there’s little argument against doing everything we can to improve our use of energy. As Cisco’s Hailey told the assembled audience that Thursday evening in August “our customers and partners are demanding we be a green company.” Becoming even more frugal about our energy usage is going to continue, and none of us will miss illuminating any opportunity for energy savings, whenever they appear.

It may even be time to take another look at my own usage!. Who knows, perhaps I can program a clear path to the refrigerator and feel good about the savings I am making as I grab my last snack of the day!

1 comment:

Rich Greene said...

I'm glad to see LED lighting technology become more mainstream. However, LED technology goes way beyond "being green."

In early 2001, I led private efforts to educate and expand usage of LED in the medical community for pain management. The ability to manufacture targeted light frequencies to produce a photo-biological effect on human tissue provides an extremely inexpensive, drug free pain management option to treat many serious debilitating maladies. The best part is the average LED has a continuously operating lifetime of 100,000 hours! Now that's NonStop!