Vacant workstations waste energy and and add to energy costs.

Running a typical PC day and night without turning it off can cost an extra $100 a year, according to one energy supplier. For large organizations with hundreds or thousands of computers, that amount rises exponentially.

Government agencies have tried a variety of solutions to address this problem, such as power management software or policy that requires employees to turn off their workstation at the end of the day.

Riverside County, Calif., is trying something else. Last week the county started the process of installing 3,200 surge suppressors with built-in motion sensors at the workstations of county employees.

Riverside County currently spends $18.7 million a year in energy costs. When all 3,200 units are installed, the county is expecting to save $50 a year per unit totaling $160,000 in annual energy savings. The county expects to save $1.6 million in energy costs over a 10-year period.

The surge suppressors plug into computers, printers, desk lamps or other peripherals that consume energy. Through the infrared motion sensor, the surge suppressor detects inactivity at the workstation and powers down those devices when an employee is away from his or her workstation for 30 minutes or more. When the employee returns, the PC and peripherals automatically power back up, said Janet Purchase, an energy manager for the county.

“That’s the way we save energy since employees are not at their desk all day long,” Purchase said. “So this way the computer is on all the time and we don’t disrupt anything that’s going on at the computer, but we save energy.”

Riverside County is receiving the surge suppressors for free through a partnership with Southern California Edison, the local electric utility company. Through the partnership 1,400 surge suppressors have already been installed in county-owned and county-leased buildings. Approximately 800 more are scheduled to be installed.

The Edison partnership was formally developed in 2006 to build an infrastructure that would provide energy-efficient projects within the county. 

Through the partnership, the county also receives free audits, technical assistance and has enhanced rebates for energy projects. For the new building construction, Riverside County receives free assistance on energy-efficient design, Purchase said.

The installation of the motion sensing surge suppressors may expand further in Riverside County. In April 2009, the county received U.S. Department of Energy grant funding to complete 22 projects. Some of the projects have come in under budget.

If there’s additional grant money left over after August 2012, the Department of Energy has given verbal approval, Purchase said, to allow the county to keep the extra funding to purchase more surge suppressors — for county-owned and -leased buildings that don’t have Edison as their electricity provider.

“Conservatively there’s probably about 10,000 more sites that could use these in addition to the [existing] 3, 200,” Purchase said. “So when you start adding that up, then you’re really looking at some big savings.”

Discussion Starter: What is your agency doing to reduce energy costs? Share your comments below.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.