Cable-Tec Expo: Operators Seek Sustainability, Savings

DENVER — The pursuit of lower electric bills and systemic sustainability is again a solid undercurrent (pun intended) at this year’s Cable-Tec Expo, in sessions, on the show floor, and within the Energy 2020 community, now in its fourth year.

“We think there’s a $10 million bucket to go after,” said Dan Marut, director of national sustainability for Comcast — which recently created an “office of sustainability,” led by Susan Jin Davis, the company's chief sustainability officer.

Related: Comcast Conducting Proof of Concept Involving Energy 2020 ‘APSIS’ Initiative

When seeking top-level support for sustainability projects internally, “it’s important to lead with the business case,” Marut said. “We have to speak the language of the people around us.”

Here’s a roundup of this year’s energy-related trends:

Airflow is everything: The best way to lower energy costs in facilities, like headends and data centers, is to keep the cold air supply separate from the hot return air. Technologies that can help include computational fluid dynamics, or CFD, which use sensors to measure air temperatures at different places in a facility, then display the results with color-coded “plumes.”

“It gives you clues as to whether there’s enough cooling” or too much cooling, said John Dolan, senior engineer for Rogers Cable Communications, during a Wednesday morning Cable-Tec Expo session. Dolan detailed a “set point study” he conducted to determine the cost savings of raising the temperature (and thus spending less on cooling) in a facility. Results: A $2,000 savings in 1.24 years or $1 million if extended to 50 facilities.

Read More: Complete Coverage of Cable-Tec Expo 2017

A similar approach: Contain things that need a colder environment, like batteries, then raise the set point (temperature setting) for the rest of the gear, which may not be as heat-sensitive. That’s what Liberty Global did in Switzerland, noted Sam Khola, director of sustainability for the operator. “For every single Celsius degree (raised), we could see a 6% savings in electricity,” he said. “That’s quite a lot, at very little cost.”

Being energy efficient doesn’t have to cost a lot of money: A recurring theme, as the energy-minded engineers here continue to secure top-down support for sustainability: Being energy-efficient doesn’t have to break the bank. For instance, hot/cold air containment can be as simple as installing curtains, drilling holes in the bottoms of racks and removing unused cabling underneath raised floors.

“Not having capex doesn’t have to stop you from integrating energy efficiency into your business,” said Liberty Global’s Khola, who encouraged attendees to group all sustainability efforts into an “energy management plan” to better organize available resources.

Other cost-neutral strategies that work: Using Mother Nature. Air is still free, and in cooler climates, it’s a great way to reduce indoor temperatures. “In Canada, it gets hot for maybe a week, then it’s back to freezing,” quipped Todd Musat, director of critical infrastructure services for Shaw, which is using 10 free-air cooling units in its Calgary data center “with remarkable results.”

Equipment refreshes, like moving from “traditional” CMTS units to CCAP devices, are another good way to lower the electric bill inexpensively, Musat said. The proof: By moving to CCAP, energy consumption came down by 31%, even as the number of serving groups increased by 28%. Critical to this technique is the decommissioning of older and unused equipment. “It’s been a key to our success.”