Electronic Design

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare A Megawatt Or Two?

If the situation wasn't so close to home and potentially dangerous, it could almost be considered a large practical joke. Unfortunately, the power shortage in California is real. Even in the heart of Silicon Valley, the power does black out from time to time. How did we get ourselves into this situation, you may ask? Personally, I think it can be blamed on shortsightedness in multiple areas, plus an unwillingness to build, purchase, and install energy efficient appliances, office equipment, and other systems.

People, however, are always looking for something or someone to blame. The latest fingerpointing is aimed at the Internet. Yes, the Internet. How? It seems that California has an especially large number of Internet Service Providers and server farms. Those server farms are rather power hungry, each consuming hundreds to thousands of kilowatts between the power needed by the servers, and the air conditioning/utilities that keep the systems running. This adds just one more excuse as to why we don't have enough power to go around.

Additionally, continued population growth and near-zero expansion of electrical-generation capacity, along with some generators offline for overhauls, exacerbated the situation. On top of all these issues we can add what appears to be a poorly strategized deregulation plan and a mass of regulations that seem to be doing more harm than good.

The lessons hopefully learned in California, by examining how we ended up in this situation, and the solutions we develop to extricate ourselves from this situation, can be used by other locales to ensure that they never get into the same bind. In the meantime, new power-generating plants are years away, so conservation will be a key factor in reducing the electrical load. Additionally, an improved infrastructure must be developed so that the power-transmission grids don't act as bottlenecks that limit any region's ability to receive or distribute power.

Energy conservation starts at home and in the office, so where do we begin? Unnecessary lighting, or substituting lower-power fluorescent bulbs for incandescents are an obvious first step. Upgrading older computers, printers, copiers, and other hardware to systems that have energy-saving modes is another simple, but somewhat more costly step. Smarter rooms that switch off lights if no movement is detected can also help save power.

Additional savings can be found in heating and air-conditioning systems by adjusting the temperatures by a degree or two. Further, such simple steps as adding reflective layers on windows or replacing single-pane glass windows with dual-pane windows for better insulation also will help to conserve energy. There are many more steps that can be taken to conserve energy. Although California has been hit hard, unless everyone does something to conserve energy, the entire world could eventually face a similar fate.

TAGS: Components
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