The Business

Saving power, saving money with a green energy audit: cut printer costs and create power plans

Cold mornings and the clocks going back are going to put up heating and lighting bills for businesses as winter draws in, but increasingly IT is putting up the electricity bill too. Power prices have increased significantly this year and it’s not yet clear whether they have peaked. Offer customers a power audit that covers printing, servers, desktop PCs, storage and peripherals or include it when you’re planning a new deployment to sweeten the deal — and try it out in your own office to find out how much you can save by managing IT power.


There are two approaches to saving power. One is to change the way existing equipment is used; the other is to replace it with more energy-efficient alternatives. Unless the energy saving is significant — for example, switching from CRT monitors to LCD panels which use 25–70% less power, depending on the model — then replacing equipment isn’t likely to save money immediately and can be left until it’s time to upgrade anyway. It’s also key to remember who uses most of the electricity: the employees. Whatever energy-saving measures you introduce, getting the users on board is critical because if they see them as penny-pinching and inconvenient they will quickly find workarounds and all the ink-saving tips in the world don’t compare to getting people not to hit the Print button as often. Get them involved and emphasise the ecological issues more than the financial savings (unless they’ll be making a difference to them directly).

Simply telling people that the company is doing an energy audit may make them more receptive to change. Ask for suggestions, discuss changes that could be awkward for them and let them see what difference their behaviour makes by installing an energy meter like the Efergy or the Wattson where everyone can see the readout.

These measure the total energy draw from the mains supply; the Wattson is more stylish and eco-chic, showing how much power is being used in Watts or money (at a notional 13p/kWh, or you can program in the actual power cost) but it costs nearly £100. The Efergy is smaller and less dramatic, but costs nearer £30 and can keep a history of electricity use so you can see how power savings add up. For measuring the power consumption of individual devices around the office, use a power meter. Professional-quality energy meters like the Voltcraft Digital multimeter cost anything from £120 and up, and the investment will be worthwhile if you’re doing power surveys for all your customers, especially if you want to compare different PCs and printers for energy efficiency — or if you need to do measurement on three-phase power. For simple measurements in the office, a £30 power meter from Maplin will be adequate.

To predict savings and find out what changes are worthwhile, especially if it involves replacing equipment, you need accurate figures for devices in full-power and standby modes, as well as the unit price for electricity.



Turn it off
For example, turning PCs off overnight and at weekends can save anywhere between £30 and £70 a year for each PC in the office, depending on the power supply in the system. Micro-businesses who buy consumer PCs at retail are likely to have PCs with larger power supplies that can cope with graphics cards and a lot of peripherals (which they may or may not need); slimline business desktops will have more energy efficient power supplies: the difference can be as much as 200W and 60W. Incidentally, when Dell claims a 45W power supply, that’s the average of a 60W power supply that’s turned off at weekends and at night.

Thin clients don’t necessarily use less power than a PC, especially if you need ones that can support multimedia, and you have to take the electricity used by the server into account. Remote working can reduce in-office electricity costs but it won’t automatically save money overall. If remote workers have a desktop in the office, make sure they’re saving documents on the server and accessing them there rather than leaving their PC on for remote access. Some workers will find flexible and remote working attractive enough to shoulder the increased electricity bills at home themselves; others may expect their employer to make a contribution, and if that’s over a certain amount it can add a tax liability for the business. Encouraging workers to stay out and about rather than coming back the office after a meeting can make them more productive, but it can also increase communications costs; Wi-Fi and 3G cost more than the electricity they’d use in the office, so make sure flexible working is assessed on its own merits rather than as a cost-saving measure.


The hardest thing about turning PCs off automatically is finding out which have an ACPI BIOS that’s good enough to support hibernation, so you don’t get complaints from users who’ve lost documents they didn’t save before leaving the office. You can expect complaints if the change isn’t handled sensitively; you may want to produce information for customers to pass on to staff, or schedule a short training session where they can handle questions and concerns. It’s possible to turn machines off at lunchtimes or after they’ve been idle for more than 20 minutes, but again the customer needs to balance inconvenience to staff who might need access to a document at the end of a long phone call against the power savings for turning machines off for a relatively short time.

If you’re using sleep mode with Windows XP, if the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\USB\USBBIOSx registry key is set to 1 rather than 0 the PC will only go into S1 rather than S3 sleep mode, which uses a lot more power. The problem is that some PCs don’t wake the motherboard when you use a USB mouse or keyboard to try and wake the system up; this depends on the ACPI BIOS and motherboard, so again you’ll need to test for this.

Configure PCs to apply updates as soon as they log on to the network or use Wake-on-LAN and scripts for Task Scheduler distributed via Active Directory to wake machines as necessary.

In a larger office, start by using inventory management software like Attachmate’s WinINSTALL to see how many PCs are being left on overnight and what peripherals are attached that it’s worth managing as well. Once you know how many PCs you need to control, look at the operating system on each machine. Vista has big advantages here, because you can manage power settings remotely through Group Policy; there are 34 settings in six categories and you can safely use them in a mixed environment because earlier versions of Windows ignore them.


 With Windows Vista you can manage power settings for PCs and screens.



The two key settings are under Computer Configuration > Power Management. ‘Select an Active Power Plan’ allows you to deploy one of the standard power management configurations; ‘Specify a Custom Active Power Plan’ allows you to specific a GUID of a customer power management configuration. Under Computer Configuration > Policies > Administrative Templates > System > Power Management, in the Sleep category you can set policies to ‘Specify the System Hibernate Timeout’ and ‘Specify the System Sleep Timeout’. And under Video and Display Settings you can use the ‘Turn Off the Display’ policy to set the timeout for putting the monitor to sleep.

Windows XP has the same hibernation facility as Vista but older PCs don’t always have an ACPI BIOS that supports this correctly; a PC with a Vista logo should always go into hibernation and wake up correctly. If you’re deploying new Windows XP machines you can enable sleep and hibernation in the image, but power policies in XP are stored as binary registry keys that Group Policy can’t change. If it’s a small enough office you can use scripts to turn on the power management settings in the registry, but this doesn’t give you any monitoring or reporting option, and no easy way to undo the changes if they cause problems.


Server 2008 Power Options
With Windows Server 2008, you can use Group Policy preferences through the Group Policy Management Console to set power options for individual Windows XP machines and individual users (you’ll need to install the preference client side extensions too, which you can get from Windows Update, although not currently for XP SP3). The relevant options are under Computer (or User) Configuration > Preferences > Control Panel Settings > Power Options. The Power Options policies let you enable hibernation; Power Schemes define the active Power Scheme. Use item-level filtering to target specific power schemes to just laptops or just desktops, within a single GPO. Remember that GP Preference items are not policy settings, so they are not enforced — just applied. Users with local administrator and power user privileges may be able to change the preference setting but the preference will be reset on the next Group Policy refresh. The next version of SDM Software’s GPExpert Scripting Toolkit ( will let you automate power management policy using PowerShell and VBScript and GP Preferences which is useful because neither native cmdlets nor WMI expose the settings.


XP and Mac Power Options
If the business doesn’t have Windows Server 2008, there’s a free tool on the Energy Star Web site, EZ GPO, that includes a client-side service that reads Group Policy settings and registry keys and makes changes to the local power options, so you can deploy a Group Policy template with integer values for the settings you want. You need to install the ADM GPO template, enable the ‘Base Options’ policy by choosing the defaults you want to use , enable the ‘Simple’ policy and configure timeout values (in minutes) and then install EZ_GPO_Tool.exe on the client PCs.

 The free EZ GPO tool lets you set power management policies for Windows XP without needing Windows Server 2008.


-- click image to enlarge --



You can configure power management settings in XP using tools like Modus Interactive’s Powerwise, NightWatchman, Faronics Power Saver, Verdiem SURVEYOR, ScriptLogic’s Desktop Authority or Quest’s Group Policy Extensions. Apple’s Remote Desktop 3 ( lets you control power saving options on Macs and on Energy Star-certified monitors; if you have more than ten Macs to deal with, buy the Unlimited Managed Systems edition. KACE’s KBOX Systems Management appliance can enforce power settings and schedule shutdowns on both Windows and Mac systems, but it’s mostly useful for businesses where you aren’t already managing desktops.


Tools like Faronics Power Saver let you configure shutdown times for Mac and PC desktops.




Group Policy preferences let you manage power settings for XP in a GUI that looks like XP, as long as you have Windows Server 2008.

There are some common myths about screens and power usage that it’s worth explaining to customers. Black pixels don’t use less power than white, and screensavers don’t save power unless you set them to blank the screen. Even then, it’s much better to set the screen to turn off; something many users forget when they power down their PC, but the screen can easily use two-thirds of the total system power and an LCD screen in standby still uses around 6W of power. If you’re adding a second screen to a PC that doesn’t already have a graphics card — which often makes knowledge workers more productive and can reduce printing costs — look at USB adapters from Kensington and Belkin which take only 8W of power rather than adding a DVI card that needs closer to 34W.

Server Savings
Consolidating several servers onto one or two machines using virtualisation can cut power bills; running more workloads on a PC hardly increases power consumption so it’s cheaper to have two servers at 50% CPU utilisation than five at 20% utilisation. This can be an excellent opportunity to consolidate the applications and operating systems you’re supporting.

Virtualisation can save licence costs on backup servers that are no longer physical machines because you don’t need to pay for a licence until they’re in use. And if you use this as an opportunity to move servers to Windows Server 2008 or Server 2003 with Hyper-V, you’ll get virtualisation free; the VMware tools and ecosystem may be more advanced, but the cost advantages of the Microsoft platform are going to be compelling.

Management tools can improve power savings. It’s less problematic to pause and restart virtual machines overnight than to turn off physical servers and if you have a monitored system you can deploy workloads to minimise energy consumption and maximise cooling efficiency.

Taming print costs
The paperless office has proved to be as realistic as the paperless bathroom; we may email documents rather than printing and posting them, but we print maps from Web pages instead of using an A to Z. There are still documents that need to be printed, but according to Xerox nearly half of the pages printed in the average office are only used for a few days and nearly a quarter go in the bin the same day. And Lexmark’s figures say one page in five that’s printed never even gets read – often documents are forgotten and never collected from the printer. Few businesses calculate quite how much printing costs them; depending on the type of business, Lexmark puts it at anything from £300 to £900 per user per year, including paper, ink, helpdesk calls and the cost of the printer itself.


GreenPrint shows users what they save by taking the time to cut out unnecessary pages or printing n-up, which encourages greener behaviour as well as making it easier.


It’s possible to reduce that by 30% or 40%, depending on how much effort the business wants to go to. There are ways to limit who can print how many pages, but as with powering down PCs, you need to balance locking this down against letting users do their job. Turning on duplex printing will save up to 25% on paper consumption (allowing for documents with an odd number of pages). Draft mode uses much less ink and toner, but you’ll need to test the quality on the printers in use before making it the default — and you’ll need to educate users who may simply print the document again if the quality isn’t acceptable.

Recycled printer paper is cheaper and quality is usually excellent. According to Kyocera, only 10% of printer paper used in the UK is recycled paper, because 40% of users don’t think it’s good enough quality to send to customers or suppliers. On the other hand, 86% of users are happy to receive documents on recycled paper so it’s worth finding a quality recycled paper and showing people documents printed on them so they can decide if it’s appropriate.

Over the life of a laser printer, Lexmark calculates some 80% of the costs will be for the paper it uses, around 6% for toner cartridges and around 8% for the electricity. For an ink-jet, it’s 29% for the paper costs, 7% for ink cartridges and 16% for electricity. If there are personal printers in the office that don’t support duplex, use an energy meter and price up consumables to work out how much they cost to run; don’t forget to add in the cost of supporting multiple printers. It may be more cost effective to replace them with a networked business-grade printer or a multi-function device that can also replace a photocopier and be set to turn off automatically at night. It’s usually better to have several printers around the office rather than one central one; if one printer is broken or in use it’s not hard to use another one — especially if you use a system that redirects the printout to an idle printer. Don’t put printers too far away; try not to make staff walk more than seven metres. Printing several documents one after another uses less toner or ink than if they were printed at intervals (the printer will often clean itself at the end of the print job, wasting a little ink or toner), so look for options to batch up different documents into a single print job.

A newer printer will probably use less power in standby mode and warm up more quickly, which stops staff buying more personal printers and putting them on expenses. If you replace a very old copier or scanner that has a halogen bulb, a new model with an LED scanning light will use 90% less power. But make sure multi-function devices are set to go into standby and turn off out of hours as they can use a lot of power. The Canon iR C1021i has a very low standby power consumption — just 1.2W compared to 10-20W for many MFPs — and it’s ready to print 60 seconds after you turn it on, but it uses 1,210W when it’s printing.

Networked printers have other advantages; you can set policies like printing emails in black and white (just one URL can turn an email into a colour document that uses expensive colour toner or extra ink). Businesses may want to restrict who can print in colour or at what times of the day (someone printing their holiday snaps over the weekend could run through a lot of toner). Some devices offer security settings that mean print jobs have to be released by a PIN or security fob, which gives users the opportunity to check the first copy of a large print job and cancel the others if they spot a mistake — and documents they forget to go and collect are never printed. And if the job is held until the user releases it, it can be printed on whichever printer is most convenient.

If there’s a colour printer with expensive consumables, set up multiple copies of the printer pre-set for landscape, portrait and other options like using extra ink colours to make it easier for users to choose the right one first time.

Educate users about Print Preview so they can see the layout of a document before it reaches the printer, not after. Office applications let you highlight a selection and print just that, or pick individual pages (so 2–5, 6, 10 will print seven pages out of ten). Excel has a print preview mode that shows page boundaries as blue lines you can drag to force more rows or columns on to a page so you don’t have an extra page for each sheet, just to fit on the last column. Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 3 have options for shrinking Web pages to fit on fewer sheets of paper and turning off the URL footer.

N-up printing puts several document pages onto a single sheet of paper. It’s useful for long documents like travel itineraries that don’t need to be read line by line, especially if several documents can be combined for printing. You’ll need to explain how to set this up; remind users that printing a ten-page document on five sheets of paper (or three if it’s duplex) will make the printing faster too. Alternatively, introduce users to the TripIt service (; they can email flight, car and hotel reservations to this free service to be automatically turned into an itinerary they can add to their Outlook calendar or retrieve by email or SMS. Instead of printing the details of a pre-booked hire car, you can get the reservation number from your phone when you need it.

Changing margins and reducing font sizes can reduce the cost of printing but users are often too busy getting their work done to bother. FinePrint (available directly or with a reseller licence from Software Partners, makes it easier to combine multiple documents for N-up printing. It also has options for shrinking Web pages to A4, deleting unwanted pages in email and Web printing, removing graphics and converting coloured text to black for improved legibility and faster printing as well as reduced costs. GreenPrint software (contact Prosperon at for reseller information) has similar features for removing unwanted pages; it also allows users to remove images — like ads on Web pages before printing. And even if users just print without trimming anything out by hand, GreenPrint analyses documents for pages that aren’t worth printing. If the last page printed from a Web site has only a URL, banner ad or logo, it won’t print out. Both packages show users how much paper and ink they’ll save by choosing an option which can help motivate them to print more economically. Savings vary, but on average are around £50 per user per year.

The fax is history
One kind of printing you can get rid of completely is faxes, which can save the cost of a dedicated fax line as well as the cost of leasing and running the fax machine and buying supplies. Any faxes that do need to be printed can be, and users will save time — and money — by attaching documents without having to print them first. Create electronic versions of any printed forms and suggest a document management and workflow system like SharePoint to replace paper forms.

If the PBX supports the T.38 Fax over IP (FoIP) standard you can use software like Avenquest’s Rightfax and Equisys’ Zetafax to fax-enable applications like SharePoint, Exchange and Lotus Notes. Or you can offer an electronic fax service to customers that sends and receives faxes as emails. These systems often have an add-on SMS gateway that can be used for sending reminders to customers. InterFax is available as a white-label solution that you can brand, with suggested pricing of £7.50 per month for receiving faxes and from £10 per month and 7p per page for sending faxes.

Most of the techniques you can use to save power and money around the office have added benefits. You’ll end up with an audited list of equipment and you’ll be adding a layer of manageability that keeps that equipment under control. You can take the opportunity to speed up some business processes that have stayed on paper because that’s the way they’ve always been done and if you can reduce the number of individual devices and platforms that you have to support, you’ll be making your own life easier as well as saving customers some money.


Green Ethernet
Network routers and switches are turned on all the time and they waste more power than you’d expect. Some use more electricity than others, so it’s worth measuring a range of devices; at the higher end, Extreme Networks claims to use three times less power in its Black Diamond switches than Cisco and half as much as equivalent Foundry switches.

Most switches power every port, whether there’s an Ethernet cable plugged into it or not, and they power each port at the power level needed to drive a full-length 100m cable. As not every office is the length of a football field, that’s much more power than you need. That means putting in a larger switch than the business currently needs to allow for easy expansion will put up the bills.

D-LINK’s Green Ethernet range of switches and wireless routers apply some common sense — and use exclusive power-saving chipsets — that produce potentially significant power savings. The range includes 5 and 10-port desktop switches, 16 and 24-port fully managed rack-mountable switches and 16, 24 and 480-port Web Smart switches that you manage through a Web UI, as well as three Xtreme N wireless routers that
can also be configured to turn the radio off automatically outside office hours. If there’s no cable connected or the device connected to that port is turned off, the Ethernet port is put into a sleep mode that uses 15–20% of the usual power; when it is at full power, the port still only draws as much power as it needs for the length of cable which saves about 10% for a 20m cable. Depending on how many devices are connected to the switch, howlong the cables are and how many hours a day the devices are in use, you can see savings of up to 44%.


Vampire power
Standby power has had a lot of bad press. It uses a significant proportion of the electricity consumed in homes — which have an average of 20 devices on standby — and it’s all wasted energy. But it’s hard to cut down without turning things off individually. Mobile phone chargers and the like draw power all the time they’re plugged in, even if they’re only passing it on to a phone or an iPod for 30 minutes a day. Individually, chargers don’t take a significant amount of power but ten of them in an office all year round will certainly add to the electricity bill. EasyJet notoriously charges employees to plug in their phones, which unlikely to be popular in most companies, especially when staff may well be making work calls on their own phones and expensing them later. Putting power strips with switches at each desk to make it convenient and asking users to co-operate may be enough, if you can tap into the current enthusiasm for saving power.

TVs and DVD players in reception or a meeting room don’t need to be left in standby, and PC speakers don’t need to be on when the PC is off. Plasma screens in particular use a significant amount of power: a 42” screen that’s on for just a couple of hours a day uses more electricity than a large refrigerator. OneClick’s Intelliplug will cut the power to a TV once it’s been put into standby (and put a Sky box connected to it into standby at the same time). It turns the TV back on automatically when it gets a signal from the remote control, so you won’t have staff complaining that the TV is harder to use. The company also makes various Intellipanel surge-protecting power strips to use with PC peripherals like speakers, monitors and printers that are connected directly to a PC or laptop. These learn the power draw of a PC plugged into them, so when the PC is in sleep mode or turned off the Intellipanel cuts power to the peripherals and turns them back on when the PC powers up.




Key Resources

Managing Power with Group Policy

Group Policy preferences in Windows Server 2008



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