Bush budget expands Clinton program
Energy Star, a program created by the Clinton administration with much fanfare in 1993 but largely forgotten in recent years, is seeing a resurgence of interest in its services as the Bush administration steps up efforts to halt a brewing energy crisis.
The program, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, maintains a list of products that come with energy.-saving features. The list includes everything from office equipment such as computers and fax machines to televisions, washing machines and refrigerators.
The Energy Star Web site (www.energystar.gov) provides a list of those products, as well as several online applications to help government agencies and other organizations determine how much energy they use and how they could cut back. President Bush gave the program a big boost by including it as part of his recent energy plan.
The Energy Star program office has seen a jump in Web traffic and phone calls since talk of an energy crisis began, said Maria Vargas, EPA's director of strategic partnerships for the Climate Protection Partnerships Division, which includes Energy Star.
The move toward conservation is fueling IT purchases as well. "We have definitely seen an increase in interest for energy-efficient PCs from all our government customers, and not just those based in California," said Jay Lambke, vice president of government sales for Gateway Inc. "We expect energy conservation to become an important element for all our business customers." Lambke added that Gateway will offer more energy conservation solutions next month.
Energy Star last enjoyed a high profile in the first years following its launch. At one time, federal agencies made it a policy to only buy PCs carrying the Energy Star label, which helped sway the major manufacturers to go along.
It required adding software that powered down the monitor, hard drive or CPU when a computer had not been in use for a certain time. The program seemed to have many followers in the beginning, but has lost momentum over time. "The main thing for computer users and everyone is a computer user in the federal government is power management," said Steve Ryan, program manager at Energy Star. "We have Energy Star labels for computers, monitors and hard drives, and they should "sleep' when not being used, but a lot of those features have been disabled." The reason many IT managers have disabled the power-down features is because "their No. 1 goal is a smooth running of the network," Ryan said, so they do not like the PCs shutting down.
Unfortunately, they tend to turn off all the power-down features, rather than just the CPU. Agencies can save a lot of energy with the sleep features on their monitors, and monitors "have no bearing on the performance of the network," he said.
Agencies can see significant savings just by letting their monitors power down and by turning them off altogether at night. Of course, office equipment is only part of the story. Energy Star also wants agencies to focus on how much energy they use for air conditioning, lighting and other building appliances.
Officials want to promote Energy Star beyond the government as well. "President Bush's recently released energy plan includes an EPA directive to increase work on Energy Star for buildings to include hospitals, hotels and motels, and warehouses, and increase the overall awareness about Energy Star," Vargas said.
To that end, the Energy Star Web site now offers the Portfolio Manager, an online benchmarking tool for specific buildings that enables managers to see how energy-efficient their structures really are. The online tool requires a year's worth of energy bills, and it can compute how that building stacks up against similar ones across the country.
Buildings are then given a rating on a scale of 0-100; those with a 75 or better can be named an Energy Star building. A state-by-state list of the approved buildings is available on the Web site, and "about 20 to 30 percent are federal," Vargas said.
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