AV Goes Green

AV Goes Green
(Image credit: ThinkStock)

There was a period a few years back when everyone in the industry seemed to be talking about green AV. LEED certifications were a frequent topic of conversation, industry-wide standards were discussed, and numerous products were launched that touted their eco-friendliness.

Recently, though it feels like the talk has quieted down a bit. Products may still be eco-friendly, some even more than before, but that’s not usually the first thing mentioned about it on the tradeshow floor. But just because the messaging has changed doesn’t necessarily mean the conversations aren’t still happening.

“It’s really interesting that the narrative has died off, but I’ve seen the applications increase,” said Lauren Simmen, marketing manager, SurgeX. “Five, 10 years ago, everybody was talking about it, nobody was doing it; and now nobody’s talking about it, but everybody’s doing it.”

That may be particularly true when it comes to energy management. The prevalence of—and refinements to—automated systems has started to make smart energy conservation more commonplace, a generally understood aspect of the overall system installation.

“Energy efficiency in systems designs are table stakes today,” said Brad Sousa, CTO, AVI Systems. “Good engineering practices are expected to address power consumption calculations, and expectations as part of the baseline design efforts.”

Helping to eliminate standby power is one of the main elements these solutions target, and it’s one of the main concerns of end users. Corporations where meeting rooms sit empty for a couple days with a display at the ready, classrooms where components in the rack are still running following a lecture—there are a million various things that an energy management solution may be able to monitor and deal with.

“Most conversations with clients are centered around reduced power consumption related to hardware—Energy Star compliance, impact of BTU consumption, and HVAC are typical concerns," said Sousa. “These conversations drive system automation and enterprise-wide management solutions that monitor system use and power on/off devices based on need and use.”

The general power conversation with clients can lead to larger ones about overall efficiencies. “The number one question is usually about the basic level of cutting off power that’s not being used. It’s where they see themselves going for energy efficiency,” said Simmen. “And then as they get into it, they usually come up with other things, and realize the breadth of what we can do with an energy management systems.”

Christos Desalernos, Nortek Security and Control Power product manager, agrees, noting the company’s customers “like to have reports for their energy usage and power integrity.”

Selling Sustainability

All this doesn’t mean it’s always a simple sell to a customer. Simmen points to the higher education market as one place where calculating savings to the bottom line can be just as, if not more important as taking steps to create a lower impact on the environment. Energy management is a natural first step for budgeting, since you can estimate the potential usage based on the equipment in the space and the user’s needs. Presenting those estimates can show the savings they might see by using some of the power management tools currently available, and can present a strong argument for upfront costs that can save the end user more in the long-run.

“The nice thing about energy consumption on a base level is that it’s very easy to determine what a return on investment would be,” she said. “A lot of times when you start laying it out like that for the customer, then you can start to work with their budget constraints and get them the best solution for the needs they have, and help them justify it to whoever is paying the bills.”

One way organizations like those in higher education can get some help to launch energy management projects, she noted, is through grant funding. “If you think energy efficiency is where you want to go, and you’re upgrading systems, look into what’s available, whether it’s through local, state, federal, government, or other grants, because there’s a lot of money out there for it.” Integrators might do well in knowing which grants are available that could be a good fit for their customers.

As users become more aware of their energy usage, and of the ways they can more efficiently manage it, the natural next step is in creating more integrated systems that can create maximum efficiency overall—especially since products themselves may have already reached a point of maximum efficiency.

“There will be some wholesale changes—not necessarily to the amount of energy a product draws—but how systems can work together to better utilize spaces,” Simmen said. “We’re going to get to a point where, and we may already be there, these products are being made as efficiently as possible. Now it’s a matter of how do we get them to work together to make the systems work efficiently as possible. Like tying power management into occupancy sensors, and understanding if there’s nobody in that room, we all see the lights turn off; but if there’s nobody in that room for an extended period of time, is there any other gear that we can shut down, can a projector be put to sleep, can a TV be turned off, can the audio system be put to sleep, whatever it might be—can we build that back end to drive energy reduction?”

Data Driven

Collecting and analyzing that data is important in the long-run, as well. Usage information can help designers and integrators make better recommendations for future installations or upgrades, so the end users are selecting the right equipment for the right spaces. For instance, energy usage data over time may show a presentation space only requires projection, because other equipment that had been installed there was not being used. Looking at energy usage can both help in conservation, but also in understanding human behavior and how that can impact system design.

“Where we believe there are changes in thinking is related to macro designs,” Sousa said. “Specifically, we are asked to address more complex problems related to correlating human behaviors with traffic patterns near offices, in lobbies, and near conference centers; and how these patterns can shape the use of collaborative technologies and building automation.”

For some manufacturers, potential changes to energy delivery means keeping an eye on utility costs. “It’s important for us to focus as utility power is going up on cost,” Desalernos cautioned. “It has not reached a point where AV devices are costing enough for customers to be concerned.”

Looking Towards the Future

Another piece of the efficiency puzzle is the customer’s increasing general knowledge base. More people are coming to accept that we need to be more conscientious energy users, not just for the bottom line, but for the impact energy use has on the environment.

“There are a growing number of people who understand that the best thing we can do for our infrastructure and the environment is to maximize the use of all forms of energy,” said Joe Piccirilli, managing director and chief executive officer for RoseWater Energy Group, who predicts changes will be seen in how energy is delivered. “I believe we will see individual micro grids. Each home or building will have the ability to incorporate renewable energy, the grid, and energy storage to provide consistent, reliable, and affordable energy to meet all of their needs.”

Additionally, to address overall changes to social environmentalism, companies that provide solutions for energy management may increasingly approach their entire manufacturing process to provide solutions that their customers can, with confidence, know are as environmentally sound as they can be.

“As the landscape of the environment changes, we have to look at what we’re doing to the environment and how it’s having an impact on not only on where we are now, but where we’re going to be in 30, 50, or 100 years,” Simmen said. “As a corporation, you have to take those things into consideration, even just from the perspective of let’s do our part to minimize impact as much as possible and do what we can to help others minimize impact.”

Mary Bakija is a writer and editor with more than 15 years of storytelling experience. Bakija is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Library and Information Science to help others find and tell important stories that might otherwise be lost, and to ensure those stories are preserved for future generations to see.