Energy Efficient AV Systems: The Missing Piece

4/5/2011 3:44:10 PM
By PSN Staff

Like many of the arguments in support of energy efficiency and sustainability, LEED building standards center around the point that saving energy saves money, and therefore, saving energy makes sense. These cases are built around numbers and statistics, case studies about how Joe Green saved big bucks by shutting his lights off, not leaving his faucet running or his fridge open when for those few seconds they don’t actually need to be.  

The AV world is challenged by apparent public misconceptions that AV doesn’t really use that much power. While it should be an easy sell that sustainable practices in AV systems help rein in costs down the line and are worth investing in both the technology and physical labor involved, consultants and integrators lack a fundamental element to support their case.

“I think the piece that is missing in the AV world right now is the ability to report on energy usage,” said to Brian Huff, supervisory consultant for Acentech, an audiovisual systems and acoustical consulting firm, and SCN columnist. “We have ways of using existing products to give a snapshot of what power is being used, but we don’t have a way to monitor usage over days, months, years.”

This solution Huff describes is within the reach of a good control system programmer, but that is an expensive and time-consuming option most projects don’t have the budget for. An accessible, “off-the-shelf” product doesn’t seem to exist. “There is no manufacturer I’m aware of that is automatically logging power usage from a power surge protector or sequencer into a database via ethernet,” Huff said. “That’s a big hole in the market.”

Lacking these baselines, Huff said, systems integrators don’t know how much of what they’re doing saves money. It’s safe to assume sustainable AV practices do help keep costs down at some level, but when pitching a project, wouldn’t it be nice to support your ideas with some numbers or specific examples to prove how much your client could save?

In schools for example, when comparing AV use to typical lighting energy levels in a classroom, the two are pretty on par, Huff estimated. Yet, as a consultant that works with schools frequently, the subject of energy efficiency “almost never comes up,” Huff said. “If anyone brings it up, it’s me.”

Huff is an InfoComm Certified Technology Specialist Designer (CTS-D), LEED Accredited Professional, and a member of the InfoComm Sustainable Technology Design development committee for STEP (Sustainable Technology Environments Program), but he doesn’t see energy efficiency as a market driver. Some architects have come to him requesting solutions that are easy on energy use, but it’s more of something they check off their to-do list than a comprehensive practice they implement throughout a project.

In the education market, school administrators are more concerned about cost and longevity than efficiency. Many of these projects toss around millions of dollars, so the thousands of dollars in energy savings they could make every year are a chip in the marble. “From a financial point of view, it’s not a strong sell,” Huff conceded.

The ideas energy efficiency encompass have been creeping their way into education curricula, particularly in math and science, so it should make sense for schools to practice what they preach. But part of achieving this involves proving that investing in energy efficient practices is tangibly worthwhile.

STEP’s main purpose is to develop “a suite of actions that are recommended to reduce the carbon dioxide footprint of AV systems from design to implementation,” Huff explained.

The program shouldn’t be confused as an ANSI standard. It is more about habits, like using less paper, reducing travel, and recycling materials, but also integrating global management and power monitoring systems, such as Crestron’s Roomview, AMX’s Resource Management Suite (RMS), and Extron’s GlobalViewer. These products “allow media services personnel to monitor [and control] all of the training rooms, classrooms, conference rooms [etc.] from a central location,” Huff said. These systems allow for global shutdowns as well, which contribute to energy savings.

Another goal STEP is working toward is creating the foundation for this baseline data that is missing from the equation. STEP plans to roll out test cases this year, and over the next few months will be seeking volunteers to apply the Green AV Rating System. They are specifically looking for volunteers that have access to monitoring professional AV systems in the commercial marketplace.

AV manufacturers can also step up and play a vital role in helping to calculate and back up the data needed to advance the cause of more efficient systems. Huff believes they can start by placing less emphasis on how their products can help contractors reach LEED certification seeing as there has only been one case of an AV system achieving a point for LEED.

These challenges led InfoComm to “deemphasize” its quest for LEED points in AV.

The idea for STEP is “to learn from and complement LEED, which focuses on the shell and core of a building, by adding a rating system for the electronic systems that work within that shell and core,” according to InfoComm’s website.

While the association’s AV Sustainability Task Force is dedicated to these goals, and just as the strength of conserving energy depends on a power in numbers approach, energy- and environmentally-conscious individuals, organizations, and companies have the ability to propel this worthy cause into effecting a real impact on the AV industry and the global energy challenges the world faces.

For more information about STEP and how to contribute, contact Brian Huff at bhuff@acentech.com.

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