Technology

Pushing Forth on Two Fronts

SCTE/ISBE’s ‘Energy2020’ effort curbs power consumption, energy costs 11/21/2016 8:00 AM Eastern
As part of its Energy 2020 efforts, Cox Communications has installed solar cells on its Northeast headquarters building in West Warwick, R.I.
TakeAway

With two years under its belt, the SCTE/ISBE Energy2020 effort has made progress toward cutting power consumption, utility costs — but work lies ahead on the rest of its mission.

Two years into its mission, the SCTE/ISBE Energy2020 initiative has made progress toward achieving its first two goals, but its third and fourth objectives remain elusive.

 

That’s the take of Chris Bastian, the senior vice president and chief technology officer of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers/International Society of Broadband Experts in offering a progress report on the effort.

 

Launched in 2014 by SCTE/ISBE with the support of cable MSOs, vendors, and CableLabs, Energy 2020 set four ambitious goals in a bid to reduce the cable industry’s multibillion-dollar energy bills. They are:

 

• Reduce MSO power consumption by 20% (on a per-unit basis).

• Cut cable-operator energy costs by 25% (also on a per-unit basis).

• Optimize technology facilities and data centers to cut power usage by 20%.

• Reduce cable’s dependence on the main power grid by 10% by using alternative energy sources.

 

“When it comes to reducing power consumption and energy costs, participating MSOs are making real headway,” Bastian said. “But finding methods to cost-effectively reconfigure existing technical facilities and data centers to cut power usage isn’t as easy to do. Nor is finding realistic off-grid power options that can be implemented with rapid return on investments.”

 

In some cases, the MSOs’ reduction of power usage and energy costs have been achieved through a mix of better facility management practices — including religiously shutting off equipment when not in use — and the deployment of new, energy-efficient systems and technology such as DOCSIS 3.1 and Remote PHY over their transmission networks.

 

A case in point: An existing MSO analog fiber hub could achieve power savings of 61.5% by moving to a Cisco Remote PHY Device 2X CCAP density model; according to a study Cisco Systems provided to Multichannel News.

 

LOWERING UTILITY BILLS

In other instances, cutting cable providers’ energy costs “has just been a case of utility billing audits,” Bastian said. “This means MSOs are no longer paying for power that they aren’t using.”

 

In contrast, the push to reduce HVAC costs using “ducted cooling” (providing cool air directly to the devices needing cooling, rather to the entire facility) and other smart energy approaches is proving more difficult to roll out.

 

“So is the sourcing and adoption of alternative power sources,” Bastian said, primarily because doing so is both a major financial and technological leap.

 

That said, options such as fuel cells and solar-based microgrids are already practical realities to reduce grid reliance, according to Daniel Howard, director of Hitachi Energy and Environmental Efficiency, a participant in the Energy2020 program. He added, “we have recently found cost-effective solutions for reducing edge facility HVAC consumption that are in pilot programs now.”

 

On a larger scale, it doesn’t help that “73% to 83% of the industry’s total energy costs are related to the section of the transmission network between the local distribution hub and the consumer,” Bastian said. “Of course, pushing fiber deeper into the network allows MSOs to remove amplifiers and other powered devices, which makes a difference. However, MSOs will not make the leap to fiber-to-the-home based on energy advantages alone. Architecture decisions need careful examination on an MSO-to-MSO basis.”

 

All of these factors notwithstanding, Energy2020’s results as the program is in its “sophomore year” have still been significant, Debbie Fitzgerald, CableLabs’ principal architect and director of CableLabs’ Energy Program, said. “A number of specs have been published; MSOs are sharing great case studies and lessons learned; several research programs have been kicked off with organizations including NREL and Villanova; and, most importantly, the program is working to raise awareness across MSOs and their suppliers,” she said. “This was especially evident at the SCTE/ISBE Energy 2020 Meeting and Energy Management Subcommittee Plenary at CableLabs last month.”

 

Bastian noted progress made with the Adaptive Power Systems Interface Specification (APSIS), which aligns power consumption with usage and is being developed within the OpenDaylight open source community.

 

Meanwhile, cable companies such as Comcast, Cox Communications, Liberty Global, and Time Warner Cable (acquired earlier this year by Charter Communications) have made tangible efforts to realize energy savings through new system-management approaches and energy-efficient technology (see sidebar). Their Energy 2020 results so far were covered earlier this year at the SCTE/ISBE Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, during an update session held Sept. 28.

 

SAVINGS START TO ROLL IN

Among those results were $12.5 million in energy savings achieved by Energy 2020-member MSOs since 2015, “which, compared to what we all spend on energy, isn’t a big number, but it’s a start,” said Dan Cooper, chair of the SCTE/ISBE Sustainability Management Subcommittee. He also noted that Charter is working with two New York utilities to source 12 megawatts of renewable energy (estimated to save the MSO more than $5 million) and is building a data center in Charlotte, N.C., where solar panels will reduce annual energy costs by 10%.

 

On a broader scale, Energy 2020’s already-delivered benefit to the cable industry is a change in mindset. Cable executives are moving from putting new-service rollouts and expansions first with little thought given to energy usage, to regarding cable infrastructures as integrated ecologies where the cost of providing content to subscribers is as important as how attractive that content is to driving sales over time.

 

The same shift is occurring at the vendors who sell to All Arris products are being designed with lower power consumption per bit and higher functional cable providers. Arris is now designing products with “density in mind,” chief technology officer of network solutions Tom Cloonan told Multichannel News. “With the introduction of the SCTE Energy 2020 initiatives, we have made all of our design teams across the company even more aware of this need.” A similar power-saving design philosophy has been adopted by Cisco’s product design teams as well.

 

Two years in, Energy 2020 is making headway, even if full realization of SCTE/ISBE’s four ambitious goals seem a long way off.

 

“We are on the right path, and our members are taking their efforts seriously,” Bastian of SCTE/ISBE said. “It is more than a good start.”

 

SIDEBAR: Translating Goals Into Action

Two years into the Energy 2020 initiative, cable companies including Time Warner Cable (now part of Charter Communications), Comcast, Cox Communications and Liberty Global are making real efforts to cut their energy costs. Here are five of projects they’ve undertaken.

 

Comcast Pushes Into Fuel Cells: Comcast’s new headend in Berlin, Conn., is an 80,000 square-foot building for receiving and processing television signals for distribution over its Western New England network. (The facility is also the company’s regional headquarters for five New England states.)

 

The new Berlin facility is expected to consume 800 Kilowatt hours of power annually. In a bid to obtain some of that electricity from off the grid, Comcast has teamed with Bloom Energy to install a 400-kW fuel cell system, the first of its kind for Comcast.

 

When operational, Comcast’s fuel-cell system will reduce the Berlin facility’s carbon emissions by an estimated 1.93 million pounds a year, by reducing the facility’s use of power drawn from the grid. This carbon level is equal to what is produced annually by 121 homes, or 185 cars.

 

Cox Becomes a Utility: Cox is offsetting its energy costs by becoming a power producer in its own right. It’s doing so by installing solar arrays at two of its Rhode Island facilities: one in Porstmouth, with 1,694 solar panels across nearly two acres; and one in West Warwick (see above) with 638 solar panels mounted on two buildings.

 

Combined, these two solar power plants generate 681 kilowatts of DC electricity for Cox. Under the $0.316/kilowatt price it has arranged with its local utility over 15 years, Cox is slated to earn $270,000 annually from these solar facilities, over the life of the contract.

 

Liberty Global Leverages Heat-Retaining Chemicals: Liberty Global’s Ziggo is the largest cable TV operator in The Netherlands. In a bid to economically heat its new series of edge facilities, Ziggo chose phase-change material heating systems made by Tizzon. Phase-change materials are encased substances that absorb high levels of heat when they go from solid to liquid, and release that heat when the ambient temperature drops and they solidify again.

 

As used by Ziggo, the Tizzon phase-change materials melt when the outside air temperature exceeds 77 degrees; providing additional cooling support to the edge facilities’ HVAC systems that kick in at 64.5 degrees. At night, when the outside air cools substantially, the liquefied phase-change material solidifies once again; releasing its heat into the building.

 

Charter Adopts CCAP to Reduce Operational Costs: If you can make it in New York City, sang Frank Sinatra, you can make it anywhere. If true, the decision made by Charter’s former Time Warner Cable system in New York to replace its CMTS and edge QAM architecture with a Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) from Casa Systems has proven the moneysaving power of this new technology.

 

Consider: By consolidating all of its data, voice and video services on the Casa Systems’ C100G CCAP platform, Charter is projected to use 30% less power across its 25 New York City hub sites, while almost doubling the bandwidth they can offer to users; thus allowing it to boost the data rates it offers to its Internet subscribers. Based on data gathered on Charter’s behalf by the New York State Energy and Development Authority, this MSO has also confirmed that it has reduced its energy usage in NYC by more than 11 million Kilowatt hours annually.

 

Comcast Cuts Vehicle Weight: The more a cable service truck weighs, the more fuel it must burn move itself. Bearing this truth, Comcast is working with its truck customization partner Knaphiede to reduce he weight of the MSO’s vehicles without degrading functionality. (The approach is known as “Right Vehicle, Right Job.”) It’s also looking into incorporating alternative fuels into its fleets.

 

To see the full list of Energy2020 projects, visit multichannel.com/Nov21.

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