Asia Perspective: Trimming Power Toward Efficiency in Asia


When some consumers were interviewed on national television in Singapore about rising costs, one lady’s comments were hard-hitting. She said, “With the rising petrol costs, I don’t know if I can still use my car, or even keep it. I might sell my car.”

Already, rising energy costs have hit home, literally, whether it be the use of petrol and diesel in automobiles, or the simple and mundane use of consumer electricity to cool homes in Asia (where average temperatures range from 30 to 40 degrees Celsius).

On November 12, 2007, Trade and Industry Minister of Singapore, the honorable Mr. Lim Hng Kiang, outlined a holistic national energy policy framework, when he launched the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore. While the national energy policy framework primarily is to build Singapore’s energy security, employment, and economic competitiveness, the framework also strengthens Singapore’s vision to improve environmental protection and sustainability under the Energy Efficient Masterplan (or E² Singapore). Earlier, Renewable Energy Cooperation from Norway agreed to spend S$6.3 billion to build what it said would be the largest solar manufacturing facility in Singapore. This certainly speaks of the increasing importance of energy and sustainability, whether it be from the perspective of regulatory authorities, or from commercial vendors.

Closer to our arena, leading industry analyst group Gartner estimated that the information technology industry churns out the same amount of carbon dioxide emission as the aviation industry. Vendors such as Sun Microsystems and American Power Conversion (APC) are all talking about efficiently powered data centers. Sun recently launched “Project Blackbox” in Singapore, a self-contained, energy efficient data center in a standard-sized shipping container. Sun’s single container can contain a virtualized data center with up to 700 CPUs for high-density computing and processing, standard components for easy deployment and maintenance, smart cooling technology, and recycling initiatives. The same virtualized data center in a container can be deployed not just in technology parks or commercial environments where portability and energy efficiency are important, but can easily be dropped at disaster and emergency sites for mission-critical computing. Likewise, APC has its InfraStruXure® Express, billed as an “on-demand mobile data center,” with redundant power and cooling features. The heart of such initiatives is not about how much computational power there is, but how energy efficient the system can be in such a small dimension.

For the average computing user, there is an increasing trend to use flat-panel LCD monitors in place of traditional CRTs. LCD monitors consume less energy and take up less physical space. The caveat is cost. Like the crunch on our petrol supply, LCD panels are also facing a supply crunch.

On the computing front, VIA, a Taiwanese semiconductor company, has some rather unique and energy efficient CPUs (central processing units) such as the Eden® ULV, with a speed of up to 1.5 GHz. It comes in the tiny NanoBGA2 footprint and operates within a maximum thermal envelope of just 7.5 watts. It’s an ideal candidate for quiet, fan-less PCs and small embedded servers (including local area-network drives) that are scrooges in power consumption. Some of these fan-less PCs are great for running open-source operating systems such as FreeBSD or Linux, with easy availability to applications such as OpenOffice and GIMP, all of which run sufficiently well on such CPUs. Server-class applications such as Apache, MySQL, PHP, and Perl are already available on a typical FreeBSD or Linux system. Such fan-less “mini” servers work as Intranet Web and database servers, or for low to medium traffic sites for the public Internet.

The signs are clear. With rising energy costs, there is a need for cleaner, greener, and more efficient power usage. Technology vendors are implementing energy conservation that can serve desktop, embedded applications, enterprise and carrier-class server applications. These advances are important in Asian countries who are not fossil fuel producers, but who are subject to their fluctuating cost effects. While alternative fuels and power sources may become more available and economically viable in the future, the more immediate goal in this region is to examine technologies and methods for the reduction in energy use instead.

By Seamus Phan
Seamus Phan, based in Singapore,
is one of Asia’s leading thinkers and practitioners
in business leadership, Internet security, and marketing.