IBM saves $43 million, thanks to energy efficiency measures

Conservation programs helped technology services giant save about 7.4 percent of annual power consumption for fiscal year 2011.

Even though it already saved close to $400 million in electricity costs between 1990 and 2010, IBM was able to squeeze out another $43 million in energy savings during 2011.

In fact, the company conserved about 378,000 megawatt hours of electricity during the year, which is about 7.4 percent of its annual consumption -- and double its goal for annual savings of 3.5 percent. From 1990 to 2011, IBM saved 5.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, and it avoided about 3.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions (or 55 percent of its global carbon dioxide emissions for all of 1990).

IBM attributes the savings to more than 2,300 conservation efforts supported at more than 364 IBM facilities globally. Those efforts combine efficiency measures, new data center design principles, renewable energy investments and a slew of other efforts, according to the company's 2011 Corporate Responsibility Report.

So how did IBM pull this off?

Well, it helps that the company employs more than 40 people explicitly focused on energy management. This team has created best practices for building management systems, lighting controls, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), compressed air, data center and IT systems, cafeterias and office systems. Any site that uses more than 2,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year is beholden to those policies, according to the report.

Some specific things that helped with its latest savings include:

  • The installation of energy-efficient lighting and occupancy schedules at 203 locations, which has helped reduce electricity usage by 16,200 megawatt-hours (or $1.9 million).
  • Modifications to HVAC operations at 155 locations, saving 41,870 megawatt-hours of electricity (or $5.2 million).
  • Central utility plant alterations for 60 locations, focused on boilers, chillers, free cooling systems and equipment upgrades. Across the board, these measures saved about $4.6 million. 

As you might expect, IBM is eating its own dogfood when it comes to investing in technologies to help. For example, it installed the IBM Smarter Building suite at 10 of its highest energy-consuming buildings during 2011. Another 18 locations are targeted for this technology during 2012. Eventually, this technology will be installed in buildings representing about 50 percent of IBM's overall electricity consumption.

IBM's more recent data center expansion effort in New Zealand using techniques that have helped the facility achieve a power usage effectiveness (PUE) measurement of less than 1.4 when the data center is fully populated. Among two of the things used at the site are free cooling and variable speed fans.

Retrofits at 86 existing data center locations during 2011 helped reduce power consumption by 33,700 megawatt-hours, or about $3.8 milllion. These weren't necessarily hard things: they included blocking cable and rack openings, rebalancing air flow, and reprovisioning the processes for computer room air conditioning units. The company has also begun applying more formal thermal balancing procedures. For example, it has increased the raised floor temperature at its facility in Rochester, N.Y.,  by 2 degrees Fahrenheit. This reduced annual energy consumption for the site by 7.3 percent.

During 2011, IBM bougth 518 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy, about 10.2 percent of its global electricity consumption. This actually represents a reduction of about 7.6 percent between 2010 and 2011, which IBM attributes to "vary market conditions and renewable energy availability."

IBM hopes to save about 1.1 million more megawatt-hours of electricity consumption by the end of 2012.

Show Comments