Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Christmas gift to you, reader

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

Here's my Christmas gift to you: $80 in your pocket next year. Read on for details.

I leave my computer on all the time, 24/7. It's an old habit from back when boot-up was slow and conventional wisdom said turning your computer on and off caused more wear on the processor and hard drive than leaving it on.

Nowadays, the jury is out on which approach is better, but boot times are, if anything, slower. I have a computer that I need to access on short notice many times a day, so waiting to start it up each time is not an option. Instead, I just leave it on and let the screen saver turn off the monitor (the largest power draw) after a period of non-use.

But that still means using unnecessary electricity much of the day, and also leaves my computer open to lurking viruses that prey on anyone using Windows. (My Rogers Internet connection is always on, too).

Recently, however, a friend* twigged me to something really useful: a program that puts my computer to 'sleep' when I'm not using it, but 'wakes it up' almost instantly when I need it. Most laptops have something similar as a standard part of their power settings, but it's not standard in a desktop.

My friend is Jim Harris, former leader of the Green Party of Canada and fellow newspaper columnist. Now he's in private consultation helping companies become more profitable by saving energy and reducing waste.

Many companies leave their office computers on all night, so their IT department can do upgrades over the network in the wee hours when workers are gone. But most of the night the computers sit unused, powered up and drawing electricity.

A company can purchase this software for its computers and install it, and the computers will sleep when they're not being updated. Installing this on 10,000 computers saved British Columbia hospitals $232,000 in the first year.

And for you the home user, the software is free. It's called Edison and is available here.

You tell the program when your normal work times are and when you aren't usually on the computer, and it customizes the sleep times. Then, you tell it how much you pay per kilowatt-hour for electricity and it will calculate how much money you'll save in a year.

It will save me $80 annually. If you like to leave your computer on, download and install this (it takes only minutes) and you'll have more pocket money, too. (You're welcome.)

What I especially like is how it proves a bigger point about saving energy, reducing emissions, and economics.

Whenever people talk about preventing climate change or phasing out fossil fuels, they always fret about "the cost." People assume living greener has to cost us money or hinder the economy.

But programs such as Edison prove the opposite: saving energy can be free. In fact, world-famous management consultants McKinsey & Co. studied the costs of reducing carbon emissions. It found that 40% of reduction measures would not only not cost anything, it would actually save money or generate more profits. That balances out most of the measures which would cost money.

The take-away is that reducing our emissions can be done for very little cost - in the long run, benefiting the economy. So instead of avoiding the issue from fear of expense, we should be embracing efficiency and conservation and putting more money in our own pockets.

We should welcome international agreements which spur us to greater efficiency, because they'll make us richer and healthier, too.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.

* Special thanks to Jim Harris for alerting me to this program.

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