OPINION: Getting wise about power use

Earlier this week, Cisco Systems announced its EnergyWise program, whereby it will add software to Catalyst switches designed to manage power over Ethernet devices like IP phones and wireless access points. That’s the first phase of the program, and it doesn’t sound that exciting, unless you’re a company with hundreds of these devices and the only efficient way to shut them off is from the switch. With less than 10 Watts per phone, you would have to leave a few hundred running to consume the same energy as an air conditioner.

The second phase of EnergyWise includes the ability to power down or hibernate laptops, but the third phase is the one that sounds more exciting.

In 2010, Cisco plans to partner with Schneider Electric to help automate lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning in office buildings, hotels and other structures to save money. Though Cisco doesn’t deny there are “smart buildings” today, company officials told us last month the trend is to get these systems connected to IP networks, rather than the proprietary protocols used today.

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When EnergyWise was announced, Cisco made some fantastic claims on how much money could be saved using this type of product. Company officials said a 200-room hotel could save US$80,000 a year, or $400 a room, by shutting off the lights, TV and other appliances, in addition to turning the heat or air conditioning down, when people are not in the room.

Cisco is on the right track, assuming that most people are not responsible enough to turn off lights and appliances when not in use. The root of the problem, however, is the fact that people aren’t billed directly for a lot of the energy they use. What if hotels just metered every room and billed guests for the amount of energy they used? Would it cost more than the hardware, software, network gear and integration required to connect the environmental and electrical systems to a management console?