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Green Heating, Power Needed For Green IT

You're familiar with the tired phrase, "eating your own dog food?" Well, I'm here to tell you that I've begun eating my own granola. Rather than simply espouse green computing, if only by tracking eco-friendly developments on the Web, I'm about to launch a green computing experiment in my basement.
You're familiar with the tired phrase, "eating your own dog food?" Well, I'm here to tell you that I've begun eating my own granola. Rather than simply espouse green computing, if only by tracking eco-friendly developments on the Web, I'm about to launch a green computing experiment in my basement.It is the installation of one of the first residential micro combined heat and power (CHP) plants of its kind in the Northeast. The system will have its own IP address, which means the utility company, with my permission, can monitor and troubleshoot the system, as need be.

It also will let me remotely monitor -- and manage -- my house's energy consumption from my BlackBerry. That's a pretty amazing advancement, given that the house is 100 years old and the heating system being replaced consists of a 90-year-old, 900-pound cast iron coal- and oil-burning behemoth that -- until last week, when I gutted it like a 900-pound Alaskan moose -- assaulted the environment in every manner imaginable.

If all goes well, the co-generation system will reduce my heating costs and carbon footprint by two-thirds and cut my electricity bill in half.

The ingenious part about my co-generation system is that it's hydronic. That is, it heats hot water that is circulated through a maze of metal pipes connected to impossibly heavy and ornamental cast-iron radiators. The old system heats the house beautifully, but at a cost: one-fourth of the heat produced is lost before it leaves the furnace, and another one-fourth is lost in transit. So, for every dollar I spent heating my home-office last winter, 50 cents went toward heating my unfinished basement and dead-air spaces between floors and walls. With the new CHP system and some insulation, only 5% of the heat produced will be lost in the basement and another 15% in transit. That means 80 cents of every heating dollar will be spent as intended.


The CHP's internal combustion engine produces 1,200 watts of electric power and about 12,000 BTUs per hour of heat for the home.

The CHP's internal combustion engine produces 1,200 watts of electric power and about 12,000 BTUs per hour of heat for the home.

Manufactured by Honda Motor Company for Freewatt, the system shown below combines two technologies: a high-efficiency boiler and a natural gas-fired engine generator. It has its own IP address and can be monitored and managed remotely.

My excitement at combining IP and HVAC makes me a little bit nerdy (and a lot middle-aged). Even so, it puts me in good company: The Green Grid, a consortium of about 100 eco-aware computer companies, and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), recently agreed to work together to reduce wasteful energy loss in data centers. As has been well-documented by now, data centers in both public and private sectors are notoriously inefficient energy hogs.

Among those working with ASHRAE, though it hasn't joined The Green Grid, is Google, whose chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt has been a strong proponent of using renewable energies. That support includes a Clean Energy 2030 proposal, written by Jeffery Greenblatt, Google's Climate and Energy Technology Manager, and discussed by Schmidt at the Commonwealth Club of California on Oct. 1.

The plan gives some fairly good details about Google's suggestions to save energy one data center at a time through the use of more efficient servers -- and HVAC equipment.

And that brings me back to my basement, where workers from an increasingly green National Grid and Freewatt (ECR International) are doing their thing to make my home-office greener than it has ever been: The first day of installation is done; two more are scheduled. Until then, the home-office HVAC system consists of hot coffee and a space heater.