Trends in Green (Sustainable Innovations On Campus)

Computer Power Management

With thousands of computers on campus, colleges and universities are ideally suited for a simple way to save money and energy. Computer power management (CPM) — activating computer “sleep” settings organization-wide — can save up to $50 per computer annually. EPA can help you implement CPM quickly and easily.

For a number of years, EPA ENERGY STAR’s Low Carbon IT (LCIT) Campaign has provided technical resources, along with recognition, to organizations that pledge to power-manage their computers. CPM involves using network tools to activate features that automatically put inactive computers and monitors into a low-power sleep state. The LCIT Campaign provides:

  • Free technical support and consultations for IT staff.
  • Detailed instructions on activating “sleep” settings organization-wide via network tools.
  • A list of typical utility incentives available for activating power management, which can pay up to $15 per power-managed desktop computer.
  • A savings calculator that can be adjusted for computer use habits, working hours and power draws to calculate savings and greenhouse gas emissions avoided.
  • A certificate for public display from the EPA recognizing CPM efforts.

In the past two years, over 50 colleges and universities have pledged to power manage over 380,000 computers. Campus administrators can join the LCIT campaign at and see the resources at

CPM at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

An excellent example of a CPM implementation is the UW Oshkosh. Among 21 colleges and universities to earn a spot on The Princeton Review’s 2013 Green Honor Roll, UW Oshkosh was also one of the first organizations to document the use of Windows 7’s built-in features to easily administer power management. UW Oshkosh began its Windows 7 power-management rollout in June 2010 on 2,900 computers of staff, faculty and student labs.

Because staff and students were in the habit of leaving computers and monitors turned on, EPA estimated that the “sleep” settings activation saves UW Oshkosh more than $76,500 annually, and more than $200,000 during the useful life of a typical computer (three years). This one change prevents more than 3,520 tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. To absorb that much carbon naturally, the campus would have had to plant more than 725 acres of trees.

Common Myths about CPM

Over the years, EPA has heard many different reasons to not powermanage computers. Here are some of the myths, and the reality.

You save the same amount or more by requiring users to turn off their computers. Only a watt or two is saved by turning off a computer vs. placing it in “sleep” mode. Forgetting to shut down a computer only a handful of times will negate an entire year’s worth of incremental energy savings. Surveys and interviews with IT managers consistently conclude that policies “requiring” users to turn off their PCs at night result in only about 70 to 90 percent compliance.
The “sleep” feature wears out hardware by forcing the computer to turn off and on several times a day. Modern computers are designed to handle 40,000 on-off cycles before failure and you’re unlikely to approach that number, even if you keep your computer five to seven years. Some studies indicate it would require on-off cycling every five minutes to harm a hard drive.
More energy is used with CPM due to power surges when cycling on and off . The small surge of power created when PCs are turned on is far smaller than the energy used by running the device when it is not needed.
“Sleeping” computers may not receive important updates such as Windows Security patches. Partially true! This can be an initial barrier, but there are numerous ways to ensure that software updates are applied, including waking up computers through the network prior to distributing updates. ENERGY STAR can help identify the best solution for your IT environment.


The ENERGY STAR Low Carbon IT Campaign is a nationwide effort to assist and recognize organizations for reducing the energy consumed by their information technology equipment. This campaign brings together the best resources that ENERGY STAR has to offer in the information technology space. To learn more about CPM and data center efficiency please go to

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Steve Ryan is a program manager for the Environmental Protection Agency, ENERGY STAR.

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