Electronic Design

Your Efficient Power Designs Have Tremendous Global Impact

Summertime, and the livin' is... pricey. This issue's cover story on energy-efficiency standards seems well timed. I'm in a state of shock over the seasonal rates, pushing my monthly electric bill to more than $400. I'm thinking fondly of my years in Seattle, where the typical home doesn't even have an air conditioner.

But the halcyon days of cheap power for Northwest consumers may be coming to an end. Since their construction 50 years ago, Eastern Washington's publicly owned hydroelectric plants have been required by federal mandate to send their excess power—without markup—over the mountains to utilities in Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland.

Now those long-term contracts are expiring, and the Columbia River utilities are putting their plentiful power on the open market. They're wooing Internet giants that spend millions on electricity monthly to build their new data centers in Eastern Washington. A recent story in The Washington Post detailed how cheap electricity is fueling a server-farm boom.

Microsoft is building its largest data center ever. Yahoo will light up a huge data center in the fall. Google is building a massive center downriver in Oregon. These new plants also will take advantage of the fiber-optic cable infrastructure laid during the dot-com buildout. With these massive data centers consuming tens of megawatts, a lot less cheap electricity will find its way to households in Seattle.

The sky-high cost of energy has a major impact on all of us, whether we're running a server farm or trying to manage a household budget. But collectively, you readers can have a tremendous countereffect as you work to engineer more powerefficient designs, whether in the fastest blade server or in the smallest battery charger. When you start looking at Energy Star statistics, you realize how quickly savings can accrue.

In 2005, the average American spent $1900 on electric bills, about half of which went to heating and cooling. Energy Star programs guided Americans toward $12 billion in energy savings, preventing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions of 23 million vehicles. Energy Star also added battery chargers earlier this year, since the use of energy-efficient battery chargers can save more than 1 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) per year in the U.S.

And, Energy Star recently released new standby as well as active specifications for imaging equipment. By choosing Energy Star certified products, the typical home office with a fax, printer, copier, and scanner can save more than $300 over the life of the products. The EPA says approximately 275 million imaging products are in use in the U.S. today, consuming 50 billion kWh this year and accounting for 2% of total U.S. electricity expenditures.

Energy Star standards are voluntary. But as Don Tuite outlines in his cover story, mandatory energy-efficiency standards are becoming prevalent around the globe. Keeping up with the varying requirements for multiple markets can be challenging. Yet by setting a goal to engineer the most energyefficientproducts possible, you can ensure your products will qualify in the most markets. And, you'll help all of us as we look to solve the problems of global warming—and $400 electric bills!

ON THE DIGITAL SIDE
I also want to introduce our new Digital Technology editor, Daniel Harris. Dan understands what digital designers need to know because he is an engineer with years of hands-on experience. His diverse writing background encompasses application notes, user manuals, and training materials, including guides for FPGA user groups.

He brings additional perspective gained as a cofounder of Product Acceleration, a company that focused on automating the selection of support chips and pin-out design methodologies. He has a BS in computer engineering from UC Santa Clara and an MS in engineering management from Santa Clara University.

I'd also like to acknowledge and thank Technical Editor Bob Milne, who has retired from Electronic Design after 23 years. Bob's many important contributions most recently included his key role in editing our contributed design materials.

Bob has been one of the staff's most astute technical editors and could always come up with good story angles. Since moving to Florida, he also has gained a reputation for his hurricane-survival skills. One time, he even used a power inverter connected to his lawn tractor's battery so he could plug in his scanner to get diagrams for the Design Briefs into his laptop and on to us by deadline! We'd like to wish him good health and a relaxing retirement—with few hurricanes!

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