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Google, Intel Launch Industry Initiative For Energy Efficiency

Organizers, who hope to eventually sign up all Fortune 500 companies, plan to promote energy efficiency in computing by attacking waste on several fronts.

Google and Intel on Tuesday launched an industry initiative to promote and set goals for energy efficiency in computing in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming.

Executives with the two companies launched the initiative at a news conference held at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. The group's 40 supporters include such high-tech heavyweights as Dell, eBay, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, IBM, and NEC. Also joining the effort are educational institutions, such as MIT; environmental groups; and government agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Climate Savers Computing Initiative is an extension of the World Wildlife Fund's Climate Savers program, which seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The initiative, which licensed its name from the WWF, is the first time the environmental group's program has been applied to an entire industry.

Organizers, who hope to eventually sign up all Fortune 500 companies, plan to promote energy efficiency in computing by attacking waste on several fronts. Consumers need to be educated about the use of power management tools and the benefits of buying PCs labeled as energy efficient, and computer manufacturers have to continue to innovate to build products that waste less energy. In addition, more businesses need to be encouraged to join the effort to better the environment, organizers said.

Specific certification programs have yet to be established, but the new industry group has set goals for requirements of 90% efficiency for PC power supplies by 2010, and 92% for volume servers, which include 1U and 2U single-socket and dual-socket systems. Initially, the group will follow the EPA Energy Star guidelines for this year, which require a minimum of 80% efficiency in power supplies in order for a manufacturer to display the Energy Star logo on a product.

Pat Gelsinger, senior VP and general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, told reporters that the group's goals can be achieved. "This is not a technology problem," Gelsinger said. "We can build systems with 90% efficiency today." The problem that will have to be solved is in getting the computing industry worldwide to commit to building only environmentally friendly products.

The average PC today wastes about half of its energy consumption in the form of heat. If the group is successful in getting the industry to commit to at least 90% efficiency, then carbon dioxide emissions through energy production could be reduced by 54 million tons per year, saving more than $5.5 billion in energy costs.

Initially, energy-efficient computers would cost more, $20 per desktop and $30 per server. However, those numbers are expected to disappear as manufacturing volumes increase, which would reduce per-unit costs. In addition, people and businesses would spend less money on energy to power computers, which would justify the higher price tag.

"Ultimately, it helps the bottom line and helps the environment," said Urs Holzle, senior VP of operations at Google who joined Gelsinger at the news conference. "So, with both things, how can you say no?"

While declining to say how much carbon dioxide is generated through Google's operations, Holzle said the company has a number of programs under way to reduce its carbon footprint, including the use of energy-efficient servers and solar energy, and programs that encourage employees to commute to work and buy hybrid cars.

Nevertheless, Google's efforts alone would have little impact, unless the rest of the world joins it. "We can work at a much larger scale than [one] company itself," Holzle said.

Google co-founder Larry Page made a brief appearance at the news conference to lend his support, saying that computers that use power efficiently are likely to be quieter, more reliable, and better products overall, in addition to having an important positive impact on the environment. "The amount of power that computers are using is increasing, and the amount of importance they have in our lives in also increasing," Page said. "By getting everybody focused on that we can probably make great strides going into the future. ... I think this can really help the world."

Besides its own commitment to the environment, the high-tech industry is also being pushed to produce greener products by businesses demanding energy-efficient computers to reduce power costs and consumer attitudes that are shifting toward environmentally friendly computers. A recent national survey showed that 80% of U.S. consumers believe it is important to buy from green companies.

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