As TV viewers watch efforts to go green on the screen, cable
operators are starting to make strides to cut their own use
Delivering TV signals is enormously energy-intensive.
Electricity is one of the largest operating costs for cable-system operators
across the U.S.
As a whole, the cable industry can recover an estimated $100 million
to $200 million per year in electricity costs just by consuming energy
more efficiently. And that’s before pursuing sustainable energy
Like many other industries, the pursuit of sustainable energy in cable
is somewhere between “turn off the lights when you leave” and full-on
sustainability measures — solar panels, wind turbines, the works.
The commitment is there; the timing is early.
“Consumers expect us to be more efficient, inside our house, and inside
theirs,” said Stephen Pagano, executive vice president of special
projects for Time Warner Cable.
In case you haven’t noticed, “green” is no longer even vaguely synonymous
with tree-hugging, tie-dye and recycled cereal boxes. Fortune
75 companies have “chief sustainability officers”; Wal-Mart is planning
for 100% renewable energy. It’s big business everywhere.
Cable’s energy usage is spread across four segments: The home
(set-tops, cable modems); the plant (amplifiers, power supplies); the
headend (servers and more servers); and the fleet. A look at the state-of-
the-state of “cable and green” follows.
WHAT USES WHAT?
Here’s a comparative look at how much electricity is used by appliances
present in a typical home. Costs are calculated at $0.14/kwh:
Coffeemaker (one pot/day): .............................
Hair dryer (10 minutes/day): .............................
Cable modem (5 watts): .....................................
Dual-tuner HD-DVR set-top (31 watts): ........
Laptop computer (41 watts): ............................
Refrigerator (143 watts): ....................................
60-watt light bulb (used 6 hours/day): ........
Central A/C (2.5 ton, 14 hours/day): ..............
SOURCE: Multichannel Newsresearch
The digital set-top(s), cable modem and
“EMTA” (enhanced multimedia terminal
adapter, responsible for telephone services)
form the triangle of power-hungry cable
devices in a typical home.
While the industry’s major manufacturers
are actively working to comply with
voluntary Energy Star guidelines, in-home
electronics are where the most work is
needed in cable’s sustainability efforts.
Why? The boxes are on all the time, “24/7,”
and don’t typically contain methods for going
into “sleep mode” when idle.
For $25, consumers can buy a gadget
that measures the exact energy use of every
electrical object in their homes. (One was
used for this story.) A dual-tuner HD-DVR
made by Motorola tested at 31 watts. Based
on residential utility rates in Denver (about
$0.14/kilowatt hour), that means each settop
costs about $3.10 in electricity per
month. Two boxes cost about $75 per year.
The good news: As more processing gets
jammed into “system-on-a-chip” (SOC) confi
gurations, fewer chips are needed. Less
chips means better power efficiency.
Consider: Early digital set-tops used 12
or more chips to do what one chip does
today. And the latest version of the “MoCA”
(Multimedia Over Coax Alliance) spec for interconnecting
electronics includes a way to
put gear into sleep mode when idle. Watch
for that in the 2012 timeframe.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Cox Communications implemented its “Cox Conserves” program in 2007, with a goal
of reducing its carbon footprint by 20% over 10 years. That’s against 832,000 tons of
greenhouse gases it emits annually; so far, gases are down 118,000 tons. One of the
biggest factors in its success is “top-down” support. Some tips for getting started:
1 FIND THE PASSIONATE, MAKE THEM AMBASSADORS. Time Warner Cable’s
Oceanic Cable system in Hawaii conducted an extensive energy audit last year
for a blueprint. Cox’s conservation council is populated by a mix of disciplines
(engineering, marketing, etc., and all systems have a “sustainability ambassador.”
2 AUDIT YOUR ENERGY USAGE. Examine energy costs. Investigate what you
pay, where you pay the most, and whether you’re getting the best deal.
3 FIND THE “LOW HANGING FRUIT:” Search for easy savings. Find the obvious:
Lighting, cooling, heating — is it organized for efficient power usage?
4 THINK “TOTAL COST OF OWNERSHIP.” Energy-efficient methods may seem more
expensive than the status quo, at first. “I’ve been amazed at how many of these
projects self-fund,” said Cox senior VP of engineering and technology Jay Rolls.
WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU SUNSHINE
Cox Communications, the leader in cable's "green" efforts, is using its Phoenix system, among others, to work toward a corporate commitment to shave 20% from its carbon footprint in 10 years. Last year, the MSO put in a solar array in the valley of the sun that provides 217,000 kwh per year of energy for its system there. The free-standing canopy design also doubles to create shade for the parking lot.
The photovoltaic system powers 3% of the building, Cox officials said, and reduces the company's greenhouse gases by 152 tons - about what's produced by 20 average households.
The Society of Cable and Telecommunications Engineers in Exton, Pa., is also at work to power its headquarters with 12,000 watts of solar energy, said CEO Mark Dzuban, which is enough to handle the lights, air conditioning and "a good deal more". Ultimately, Dzuban said, he wants a tagline under all SCTE correspondence that reads, "SCTE: Powered by the sun".
For the energy resource that is gasoline, operators are using a combination of methods
to minimize consumption in their fleet. GPS (global positioning satellite) systems are a
natural first step to more efficiently route technicians to service call sites. “It also yields
tighter appointment windows, and we can dispatch the closest employee to a service
call,” said Cox senior vice president of engineering and technology Jay Rolls.
Comcast sends its technicians home in their trucks every night, to save the cost of
driving to and from the office and to route them more effi ciently in the morning.
The cable giant also purchases 100% flex-fuel vans (even in markets where flex-fuel
isn’t yet available) and all 2010 purchases of vehicles for managers are hybrids, said Bret
Perkins, senior director of public policy for Comcast.
Weight and range are the challenges in going farther with electric vehicles: Can they
bear the weight of supplies and test equipment and can they go far enough without
running out of juice?
Cable is trying to reduce energy consumption at the same time its components are becoming
Refresher: Headends started out as the places where signals came in (from satellite
or broadcast antennas) and were processed, mixed and imprinted onto the wires to get
to homes. That’s all still there, but so are the racks and racks (and racks) of servers necessary
for practically every new digital service.
These days, headends are turning into data centers — and data centers are crammed
with energy-hungry servers. Servers run hot. For that reason, more than 30% of a headend’s
power requirements go to air conditioning.
Comcast’s sustainable energy work began in its West Chester, Pa., data center with
an energy audit. One light switch for the entire facility? Go to zoned lighting. Ditto for
heating and cooling: If only a quarter of the building is occupied on the weekends,
climate-control only that segment.
Systematically checking the obvious can trim as much as 10% to 20% from existing
energy costs, estimated SCTE CEO Dzuban, a sustainability champion who implemented
the industry’s “SEMI” (Smart Energy Management Initiative) effort last year. Dzuban
estimates the industry’s annual energy spend at around $1 billion to $1.2 billion.
That represents between $100 million and $200 million in potential savings (read:
low-hanging fruit”) each year — and that’s before adding renewable energy features.
The distance between the home and the headend, known as the “outside plant,” isn’t as heavy with amplifiers and
power supplies as it was before fiber-optic distribution entered the mainstream, but it’s still an energy glutton.
Finding sustainable energy for the outside plant will be more about supplementing its aggregate power needs than
targeting individual components.
Don’t watch for solar panels strapped onto amplifiers, in other words. Instead, the renewable energy future for
outside plant will consist of photovoltaic (solar) arrays or wind-turbine farms, making clean power that off sets carbonbased
Before that happens, though, operators will target the industry’s many remote sites, where commercial power isn’t
available. Right now, those facilities mainly run on diesel generators. Mountaintops don’t usually come with natural
diesel resources — but there’s almost always sun or wind.
Renewable energy sources, plus batteries, can lop 30% or more off the cost of hauling diesel up the hill, and using it
to feed generators, said Drew Zogby, CEO of Alpha Technologies, a longtime manufacturer of power supplies for cable.