TEF Q&A – Bruce Nordman, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

By Ethernet Alliance

What will end users want to hear about during your panel?

As an “energy person”, I am mindful that the biggest driver for people being concerned about energy is saving money. While other goals often get people’s attention, it’s the money savings that usually ultimately dominate how they make decisions. This is okay, because there is a huge amount you can do that saves money and energy at the same time.

In addition, one problem that persists when it comes to energy is the lack of good information, at the local and macro levels. I want to speak about both of those. At the macro level, we did a study, which I believe is the only national study of energy use of IP network equipment. I’ll show some of the results during the panel.

People often focus their interest on devices at the core of the network that are the largest physically and the most power intensive. There is actually much more energy used at the edge of the network because even though each device uses less energy, there are so many more of them. So, if we want to save energy, we really need to focus most of our attention at the edge. That said, those devices tend to be less exciting because they are more pedestrian.

How is the problem at the edge being addressed?

There are two parts to this.  First is energy used by the network itself, such as Ethernet.  Later I’ll get to energy use of entire devices on the network.

The Ethernet community developed the Energy Efficient Ethernet standard between 2006 and 2010. Today, both components and full products that use the technology are on the market. However, I want to ask people attending the forum about what visibility they have concerning how fast EEE is being rolled out, because I don’t have data on that.

Are people looking for EEE devices?

Some end users will look for them and buy them. But if the standard quickly penetrates the market, most people will get it without specifically looking for it. And that is where we want it to go — we want it to be the default. But it would be good to know how much EEE is being deployed in rough numbers. That would help us figure out how much energy savings are occurring from EEE. Coming up with some figures will help make sure that the savings don’t go unnoticed

Why do you want it to get attention?

People need to understand that we can turn the direction of technology in ways that save energy but do not compromise functionality and see that we can do the same thing in other contexts, not necessarily just Ethernet. I also want it to become something that people expect, not something they have to make a special effort to get.

How was it possible to come up with something that was ubiquitous enough to cover all of these devices? Was Energy Efficient Ethernet the key?

The EEE standard enabled the Ethernet components in devices to use less power. It doesn’t allow the rest of the devices to save power, but there are a lot of other things you can do to devices to make them more efficient that are independent of the Ethernet part. Lots of things are being done — power supplies and basic integrated circuit technology and more. Without the EEE standard, though, you couldn’t reduce Ethernet power very much — you can only do that through the standard. And once we get it fully deployed, my estimate is that the energy savings in the U.S. will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

What else will you discuss at the panel discussion?

At the very local level, anyone with a building, be it residential or commercial, typically does not know where the energy goes. Electronic devices offer the potential to track their own energy use and report it over the network. Ethernet is a prime carrier of that information.

On the theme of reporting and making visible energy usage information, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is working on a standard that enables a future in which every device can tell the network how much energy it is using. I will talk about that and two other topic areas.

Another topic is there growing use of Ethernet in audio/visual (AV) devices. I’d like to ask attendees where they see that going in the future with regard to televisions and other AV devices.

Any other topics?

The topic I might spend the most time on is power distribution over what I call a “nanogrid”. Power over Ethernet allows you to manage how power is distributed among devices as opposed to the traditional grid in which power distribution is usually uncontrolled.

Within buildings we are creating these small nanogrids of power distribution and we have the possibility to connect with each other, and with local sources of electricity or storage. This enables us to do things with power distribution that we could not previously do and it delivers value that Smart Grid cannot. The take away for end users is that in the coming five to 10 years, they will have new ways to power devices in buildings and enjoy a variety of advantages. The question for the audience will be where do they think the future of energy and power distribution is going, and what role Ethernet might play in that.

What do you think will happen?

Even though I’m an energy person, I think that energy is overrated as a reason why people adopt technologies. For example, mobile phones and notebook computers are vastly more energy efficient than things that do similar stuff that must be plugged into the wall. However, mobile phones and notebooks were developed for portability, not to save energy. There is a lot of energy efficiency in electronics inside those devices, but the energy savings was just a nice side benefit.

It is the same with power distribution. It is the convenience, reliability and savings on wiring costs and flexibility that will lead people to choose alternative ways of distributing power such as with nanogrids. They will enable some energy savings, but that will not be the primary reason why they are adopted. And I think one of the problems with Smart Grid is few people are interested in watching their electricity meters. It’s only interesting if you can bundle saving energy with things people value more, such as added security or more convenience. Then you can actually get their attention.