Extreme energy makeover: Home office edition

Replacing equipment and changing some habits makes a big difference to the author's energy usage -- and wallet

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Then I turned to my cable modem and wireless router, each of which consumes 5 watts. I rent the cable modem for $3 per month, so I checked with my Internet service provider Comcast Corp. about getting a new one. The latest model would save just 1 watt over my current unit. I could exchange it at no charge, but Comcast wouldn't deliver it. So to reduce 1 watt's worth of my carbon footprint, I'd have to increase it by a 30-mile drive to the nearest Comcast office. Not worth it.

Another option was to trade my cable modem for a consolidated wireless gateway device that would also replace my wireless router and consume half the power of the two devices together. For that, though, Comcast would charge me a mandatory $150 installation charge plus $5 per month. Ridiculous.

 
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Tip:  Replace your separate broadband modem and router with a single, integrated gateway device.

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So I looked into buying and installing my own wireless gateway. Comcast wouldn't support it, of course, but the real problem was that I'd need to spend a substantial sum to save just 5 watts. The Linksys WCG200 wireless gateway, for instance, sells for $130, and installing it would save only about $6 per year in electricity costs and $36 a year in cable modem rental charges -- about a three-year payback.

Unlike replacing the printer and monitor, buying a new gateway wouldn't offer any immediate advantages other than saving 5 watts, so I decided to wait for a normal replacement cycle to take that step. In the interest of pushing the power savings envelope, however, Cisco-Linksys LLC offered to loan me a WCG200 for this story, and I put it on one of my power strips and set it in operation for my next round of measurements.

A livable compromise

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Those changes brought my total energy consumption down to 0.54 kWh per day. But was that sustainable? Putting the gateway on a power strip and turning it off at the end of the workday meant that no one could use the Internet after hours from the family computer without going into my office to turn on the wireless gateway and wait for it to start up and reconnect. That was doable, but not very convenient. Losing the shared printing was also inconvenient, but the home system doesn't use the LaserJet much. My family could accept that.

Remembering to punch the power button on the NetCenter every time I wanted to back up -- and then to turn the unit off again -- was a challenge. I put a daily backup reminder in my calendar at lunchtime to help ensure that backups were completed.

But actually buying my own wireless gateway didn't fit my budget. I returned it, restored the cable modem and wireless router, and put them on a timer that cycles them on at 7:00 a.m. and off at 11:00 p.m. That allows the family to use the Internet connection in the evening while reducing demand by 10 watts overnight, saving another 0.08 kWh per day.

Today, my office equipment consumes about 0.63 kWh a day and draws about 70 watts of power during work hours and less when idle. Aside from the direct energy savings, that translates into 316 fewer BTUs/hour of heat coming off my equipment. My office is noticeably cooler, particularly later in the day. Over the next year, I should consume 645 kWh less power, shave $90 off my electric bill, and reduce my share of utility CO2 emissions by 715 pounds. That's an energy efficiency compromise I can live with.

Robert L. Mitchell is a national correspondent for Computerworld.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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