Dell, tech CEOs lobby for more energy-efficiency action

But they don't want the government dictating standards for their own products, thank you very much, touting their existing commitments to being the "greenest."

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
3 min read

WASHINGTON--Dell chief Michael Dell and other high-profile technology company CEOs descended on the nation's capital Wednesday with a message for policymakers: do more to encourage energy-efficient practices, but don't spell out specific standards for the products that companies like theirs build.

On behalf of a lobby group known as the Technology CEO Council, Dell, EMC chief Joe Tucci, and Applied Materials head Mike Splinter suggested the government should do more to "lead by example." They said it can do that by reevaluating its own power consumption, setting "high goals" for energy efficiency, awarding presidential medals to companies that excel in using information technology to boost their energy efficiency, and minimizing trade and tariff barriers and maximizing tax incentives for companies with a track record of efficient energy use.

"The industry is moving, the market is moving, but it could and should be moving faster," Bruce Mehlman, the Technology CEO Council's executive director, told reporters during a morning briefing. "This is a good place to help get that message out."

Often, when business leaders ramp up Capitol Hill lobbying, they're attempting to stave off burdensome new regulations, but Mehlman and the executives said there's no particular proposal floating around that troubles them at the moment.

Still, Dell, whose remarks began with a boast about his company's "commitment to being the greenest technology company on the planet," pointed out that there are some things government shouldn't do, such as attempting to establish a "one-size-fits-all mandate for development and design of IT products."

The executives also touted two new studies that convey what some may consider to be a paradox: by their estimation, the rise of technology use has actually helped improve energy efficiency.

One of those reports, commissioned by the Technology CEO Council and produced by economists at the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), argues that for every kilowatt hour of electricity consumed by computers, servers, telecommunications technology, and all manner of gadgets, the U.S. economy increased its overall energy savings by a factor of about 10.

Although that conclusion may seem counterintuitive, it's based on the idea that those gadgets are displacing the need for other energy-consuming activities, resulting in energy savings, said study co-author John Laitner, an economist and former Environmental Protection Agency official. He described an example from his own life: rather than flying to Sweden for a meeting, he recently partook in it from a local office via videoconference. (Laitner also nevertheless acknowledges in the report a "lack of precise data" to back the findings.)

The second report, produced by the Technology CEO Council, lists dozens of examples of products made by its member companies and others that have managed to improve power consumption over the years.

According to the ACEEE report, the information and communications technology sector currently accounts for about 6 percent of the nation's power consumption, up from about 2 percent to 3 percent in 2000. But CEOs like Dell and EMC's Tucci said they're confident that improvements in technology will keep that percentage from growing exponentially in the years to come.

The suggestions, for the record, aren't exactly new. In a report to Congress last August, the EPA suggested the nation could save up to $4 billion in energy costs if it made its data centers more energy-efficient. The agency also predicted that the amount of power used by U.S. data centers, which consumed 1.5 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption in 2006, would more than double over the next five years, at a cost of $7.4 billion each year.