IT can clean up through clean tech

There are some familiar names on the 14-member roster of the newly formed Green Power Group - California, a partnership of companies that will collaborate on purchasing and fostering clean energy: AMD, Apple, BT Americas, Cisco, eBay, Google, HP, Intel, and Intuit. Indeed, more than half of the members of the group represent the high-tech industry.

It would be rash to attribute the disproportionate representation to the simple fact that California is home to so many tech companies. Rather, I view it as another clear indication of just how much IT businesses stand to gain from the evolution of renewable power. Clean energy not only yields feel-good CSR (corporate social responsibility) benefits while alleviating the effects of global warming; it stands to save big money for increasingly power-hungry companies with enormous datacenter power bills -- the Googles, HPs, Ciscos, and eBays of the world. Moreover, it creates a lucrative opportunity for IT companies to shape the development of the intelligent, next-generation power grid -- as well as the tools used to run it.

"The [Green Power Group - California] has a pretty good mix of industries represented. But, your observation that high-tech companies can play a critical role in developing clean tech solutions is certainly accurate," says Alexander Perera, the director of Green Power Market Development Group, part of the World Resources Institute. "The high-tech industry is very actively looking for solutions to be more efficient and use cleaner power. Their core business is innovation, and when applied to finding solutions to scaling up deployment of renewables and efficient technologies, high-tech companies can have a very positive impact."

"Efficient technologies," of course, translates to "less-wasteful, less-expensive technologies." Given the volatility of energy prices, as well as the threat of a true power crisis, clean tech is a smart investment for tech companies -- potentially "a built-in hedge on energy costs," as described by Reed Content, AMD's fellow for global environmental health and safety.

Content noted AMD's commitment through 2015 to run all of its Austin, Texas operations on clean energy, through the Austin Energy's GreenChoice Program. AMD has a ten-year contract with a fixed dollar-per-watt rate. For now, the company is paying a higher rate for the green power, but the company expects that to change as the price of energy derived from fossil fuels continues to rise. In the meantime, the company can boast a lower carbon footprint, which is a selling point to many investors and customers. "We didn't go into it to save a lot of money over time," Content says. "We thought it was a reasonable investment, and we were helping the city of Austin."

HP has also already hedged its bets on the rising costs of fossil-fueled-generated electricity. Late last year, the company signed separate contracts with Airtricty, a provider of wind energy, and SunPower, a provider of solar power. The contract with Airtricity, for 80-gigawatts of power, runs through this fiscal year, and HP expects to save $40,000. The SunPower contract covers the installation of a 1-megawatt solar installation for 15 years and will save HP an estimated $750,000. Like AMD, HP also shrinks its carbon footprint in the process.

Tech companies stand to reap more than lower energy bills and a reduction in GHG emissions from clean energy; they can very well profit as the power industry and its underlying architecture transforms, a point made by Laura Ipsen, senior vice president of global policy and government affairs at Cisco.

"Cisco believes information technology will play an increased role in the way energy sources are managed, monitored, and better utilized in the future," she says. "The technology industry understands the need for innovation to develop data, common languages, and industry standards for addressing energy issues. At Cisco, we recognize that IT may be a small part of the climate change issue, but it can be a large part of the solution."

As suggested by Ipsen, as more clean-technology providers plug into the grid, and as organizations struggle to better monitor and rein in their energy consumption, IT companies have a huge opportunity to deliver the products and services to facilitate it all.

Additionally, the green IT consulting market is taking off -- Forrester predicts big growth in coming years. It certainly behooves companies providing those types of services to have a clear understanding of where clean tech can fit into a client's overall green IT strategy.

In short, the high-tech industries investment in clean technology is another fine example of how IT has the power to cultivate a greener world -- and profit in the process.

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