The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Michael Sheppy leads a DOE campaign to encourage businesses and government agencies to deploy sustainable power strips.

Apr 29 2014

Agencies Go Green with Advanced Power Strips

The U.S. Department of Energy launches a campaign to encourage businesses and government agencies to reduce plug loads.

All hail the humble power strip. It's building a fan club among sustainability proponents, most notably in government

In an effort to reduce the nation's power consumption, the Department of Energy and its partners aim to convince as many agencies and businesses as possible to use advanced power strips (APSs) in their facilities. These devices prevent electronics from drawing power when they're off or not in use, either by detecting the power load, sensing the absence of workers in a room or simply shutting down power at a predetermined time.

DOE maintains that commercial plug and process loads — for instance, from computers, printers and fax machines — account for about one-fifth of all commercial-building energy use annually. ("Plug load" describes the energy drawn from electrical products via standard AC outlets, as opposed to the energy drawn from building systems, such as HVAC and lighting.)

Office equipment alone consumes about 7 percent of all commercial electric energy, according to DOE. Therefore, by using advanced power strips, DOE says the nation can significantly reduce its overall energy consumption.

Michael Sheppy, a mechanical engineer at the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and coordinator of a new APS awareness campaign, says that a study two years ago by the General Services Administration (GSA) found that use of APS devices with timer controls resulted in energy savings of 48 percent in printer rooms and 26 percent at work­stations. The campaign, which launches this summer, is designed to alert the public to mature, commercially available (though underutilized) APS solutions, and to help building owners, operators and tenants understand and deploy APS products to save energy.

"There are an abundance of advanced power strips on the market, but consumers lack information on how to pick the one that will save them the most energy in their particular building, install them correctly to maximize savings and calculate the return on their investment," Sheppy says.

NREL uses APS devices in its Research Support Facility, a "net-zero" building — one whose energy use is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created onsite — that houses NREL's main data center. It also uses the devices in its Energy Systems Integration Facility, where it performs high-performance computing research and studies energy efficiency.

Shawn McCarthy, research director at IDC Government Insights, says that people don't always realize the amount of electricity consumed through plug loads, pointing out that even a personal computer or monitor in sleep mode can drain energy.

"Power management with advanced power strips is a smart move for many government agencies," McCarthy says. "It's especially useful when those strips have a timed component that can be set to turn off the strips for nights and weekends. While it may not be possible to power down all systems, there are many systems that can be shut down with no ill effects."

Pricey Power in Hawaii

The Defense Department plans to participate in the APS campaign. Amy Hanada, energy engineer, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Hawaii, says that results of the base's own pilot of 100 APS devices two years ago far exceeded expectations.

Hanada, who serves as installation energy manager, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH), says the command's initial goal was to reduce plug load consumption in one of the base's buildings by at least 20 percent, and to cut the building's total load by 5 percent. But the demonstration saved about 28 percent in plug loads and 8 percent in total consumption. Early this year, JBPHH deployed about 3,000 additional APS devices in 18 different buildings.

25% The percentage of the overall electric load in an office building that can be attributed to plug loads

SOURCE: "Reducing Office Plug Loads through Simple and Inexpensive Advanced Power Strips" (National Renewable Energy Laboratory, January 2014)

"Because of the amazing savings, the Navy at JBPHH worked with NREL to get more APS units installed throughout the base," Hanada explains. NAVFAC and NREL also published a joint report of their findings, "Reducing Plug Loads in Office Spaces: Hawaii and Guam Energy Improvement Technology Demonstration Project," in January.

Officials at the base are excited about the results because electric power can cost more than 25 cents per kilowatt-hour in Hawaii. Prices on the mainland vary, but typically are not nearly as high. Wyoming has the lowest power rates, at 6.08 cents per kWh, according to the Institute for Energy Research.

Time's Up

Over the past several months, armed with data from its own pilot, GSA rolled out 16,000 APS devices to 80 locations across nine regional offices nationwide. The users represent a mix of GSA offices and federal tenants, including the Environmental Protection Agency; Federal Communications Commission; Internal Revenue Service; and the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security.

"Basically, it's a matter of swapping out the old surge suppressors at workstations, printer rooms and other common areas for APS units," says Kevin Powell, national program manager of GSA's Green Proving Ground. After breaking even on the program in less than two years, GSA expects to save $200,000 annually on its electric bill across all 80 locations.

Powell says that when GSA evaluated APS devices, it saw the best energy savings from simple, timer-based power supplies. It developed technical specifi­cations for energy savings and ease-of-use and purchased timer-controlled devices that met its requirements.

With timer-based APS devices, when employees come to work at 8 a.m., for example, they turn on the timers and all their equipment runs for 11 hours. In a standard, timer-based APS setup, attached devices may include cellphone and notebook chargers (most of the pilot agencies used notebooks), computer monitors, speakers and other miscellaneous items.

"We set the timer for 11 hours because, realistically, the vast majority of people don't work longer than that on any given day," Powell explains.

The idea, says NREL's Sheppy, is to encourage organizations to deploy advanced power strips that make saving energy as simple as possible.

"If it's not easy to use, people won't do it," he says. "When people see how easy it is and how using an APS doesn't interrupt their normal routine, they are pleasantly surprised."

Julia Vandenoever