Toronto Hydro urges desktop ‘slackers’ to power down PCs

Toronto Hydro singled out desktop users on Thursday as one of the groups that are abusing their access to electricity and putting the power grid at risk.

The company released the results of a survey it commissioned in which almost one in 10 Toronto-based workers said they would leave their lights or computers on to give the impression that they are working early or late. These “slackers,” as the utility dubbed them, in some cases believe it is better for the hard drive, more cost-effective, and uses little electricity to leave their PCs in ‘sleep-mode’ rather than shutting down overnight and re-booting in the morning, according to Toronto Hydro. 

A Toronto Hydro Corp. spokeswoman said turning off all computers and lights in the evenings and weekends could save approximately $125 a year for each computer and desk light, or $125,000 in a typical building with 1,000 employees.

“It’s like people who think it’s a good idea to leave your car running because it uses more gas to turn it off and start it up again,” said Tanya Bruckmueller.  “A lot of people have misconceptions about it, but IT is one of the big guzzlers (of electricity).”

The utility is using the survey results as part of its effort to help the province of Ontario meet its goals to reduce the electricity consumed. Toronto Hydro has said historical data shows power use goes up shortly following the move to daylight savings time, which kicks in on Oct. 30.

“It’s pretty boring to talk about, let’s be realistic,” Bruckmueller said. “Everybody knows they’re supposed to turn off the lights.”

When a surge in power consumption caused brownouts in parts of Toronto this past summer, the federal government said it would assist Ontario’s efforts to conserve by asking all employees to power down their computers when they were away from their desks for an extended period of time. According to Robert Makichuk, a spokesperson with Treasury Board Secretariat, employees were also encouraged to avoid large print jobs or photocopy jobs and to turn down the air conditioning. Though that initiative was limited to the summer months, Makichuk said the government hasn’t gone back to leaving PCs on all night.  

“The bottom line is we were suggesting that employees continue to be vigilant,” he said.

“A couple of years ago when we had the first blackout, I think we were all just concerned about getting through that blackout. It wasn’t until this summer that we realized the grid is pretty fragile. Being energy-efficient is now more routine.” 

There isn’t a lot of hard data that examines the energy use of PCs in Canada, but a U.S. agency called the Koomey Group says office and network equipment consumes 74 terawatt hours each year, or about three per cent of the total U.S. electricity use. Power management devices on computers and printers save about 23 terawatt hours each year, and nightly shut down all equipment not required to operate would save seven terawatt hours a year. 

“A lot of customers don’t know that laptops use 90 per cent less energy than a desktop,” said Bruckmueller. “We haven’t crunched the numbers, but laptop computers from an investment perspectives cost more, so businesses buy desktops. Well, that may be cheaper at the onset, but looking at long term, do you look at what you’ll be saving in energy?”

Toronto Hydro’s survey said 18-34 year olds) were more likely than the older workers to leave their computers on to make it look like they are working, and men were more likely than women.

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