Landmark Energy Specs Open New Era in Cable Procurement

Derek DiGiacomo, senior director, information systems & energy management,  SCTE

Derek DiGiacomo, senior director, information systems & energy management, SCTE

August 14, 2012 – The cable industry has embarked on what amounts to a revolutionary approach to defining its technology options with adoption of the first sets of energy management standards that promise significant cost savings as well as better performance across all equipment categories.
As previously reported (November, p. 16), the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers since the fall of 2010 has been looking at ways to encourage more efficient use of energy, leading to a standards initiative that now includes 17 project categories. The first standards to come out of this effort, SCTE 184 and 186, were released on July 31.

Over the past two years the Smart Energy Management Initiative (SEMI) has won wide support among cable companies, which means the new standards could have an immediate impact on purchasing decisions, says Derek DiGiacomo, who heads up SEMI as senior director of information systems and energy management for SCTE. “Now that these standards are officially launched, any operator can specify them,” DiGiacomo says. “I can see that coming to life immediately.”

The protocols that apply specifically to new equipment performance and other parameters are embodied in SCTE 186, which defines common environmental and sustainability requirements for equipment within cable headends and hubs. SCTE 184, rather than setting equipment standards, establishes recommended practices for energy management.

“184 and 186 are the beginning points of the playbook for operators’ energy management strategies,” DiGiacomo says. “It’s not just about doing the green thing to save energy. It’s about how you face the energy cost and availability challenges as you’re growing your business.”

The point is echoed by Dan Cooper, vice president of critical infrastructure for Time Warner Cable and chairman of the SCTE’s Sustainability Management Subcommittee (SMS), which oversees development of the SEMI protocols. “Optimizing existing energy resources is essential to ensuring the availability and cost-effectiveness of cable service offerings,” Cooper says.

“Until now, energy considerations have often taken a back seat to the need to meet subscriber demand for compelling new services,” he adds. “By establishing standards that can reduce consumption in critical facilities, we’re laying the foundation for real, immediate returns for the industry as well as more comprehensive energy approaches in the near future.”

SCTE went a long way toward convincing the industry of the value of the SEMI initiative through an experimental project that served as a case study of some of the benefits to be derived from a systematic approach to energy management. Comparing the effects of alternative power sources and use of more efficient lighting and information technology systems on its own headquarters operation in partnership with Alpha Technologies, SCTE reported last year that the energy reduction program was able to drive 46 percent of the costs out of its grid-based electricity supply over a two-year period.

Much of this effort was pegged to the recommendations of what is now SCTE 184, which provides operators, facilities designers and contractors with a comprehensive menu of best practices, particularly for the expansion of existing facilities or the construction of new facilities. “184 looks at the macro, the building environment the equipment is placed in,” DiGiacomo explains, noting 800, 1,000 and 1,500 square feet are the typical space dimensions for hubs and headends in the cable industry. “It’s about best practices, but it doesn’t take a cookie-cutter approach. Operators will look at what the best practices are for their particular environments.”

The 184 document covers a wide variety of issues in several chapters, including: Design Consideration; Site Location; Building and Room Construction; Electrical and Cooling Systems; Energy Efficiency; Containment Management; Fire, Safety and Security; Environmental Monitoring and Building Management; and IT Systems and Data Communications. “There are some specific guidelines with specific metrics included, but these are recommended practices, not standards,” DeGiacomo notes.

In contract, SCTE 186 sets environmental, electrical, sustainability and other requirements for the design, manufacture, selection and installation of new equipment. “The standard talks to all the gear at the rack level going into the headends, data centers and hubs,” DiGiacomo says. “It’s applicable to the equipment regardless of where you’re putting it.”

The standard is designed to reduce operational expenses through such key metrics as:
• Establishment of recommended operating temperature (21°-70° C) and relative humidity (45%-95%) benchmarks;
• Mandatory front-to-back airflow for proper heat exhaust to ensure 8.3°-11° C change from inlet air temperature;
• Ability to monitor and measure intake and output of air temperatures on a per-device basis;
• Variable-speed fans with real-time reporting of fan performance; and
• Average computer server power supply efficiency of 87% with optimal power supply load levels of 50%.

While very specific in its specifications, 186 is not an industry-wide compliance document but rather provides a set of metrics which operators can specify in their RFPs. “It’s a tool operators can use to strengthen their RFPs to achieve their energy management goals,” DiGiacomo says.

Next up in the currently set lineup of categories set for SEMI standards development are the Adaptive Power System Interface Specification (APSIS) and Energy and Density Benchmarks for Hardware, both of which seek to set specs around equipment that will be coming off the production lines in conjunction with what will be doable at the component and software levels. It’s understood that this next-generation equipment will be brought into operation incrementally in most cases as opposed to creating a “rip and replace” modus operandi, DiGiacomo notes.

The density issues are especially acute as operators run out of space in existing facilities, where expansion on limited real estate is often not an option. But it’s the APSIS agenda which represents a significant sea change in power management that could vastly improve not only the economics of operations but also operators’ ability to withstand the impact of brownouts and blackouts.

APSIS will introduce a new operations paradigm which will dynamically adjust power consumption by assuring that only equipment that’s using power for a function at any given moment is consuming power, in contrast to today’s operations, where equipment remains on and consuming power at threshold levels even when not in use. As previously described by SCTE CEO Mark Dzuban, the goal is to create a common control protocol that enables energy management at the facilities level all the way down to specific features on individual equipment in the network in reaction to a variety of external and internal influences.

Such capabilities will require new components that use APSIS to trigger actions on the part of element management systems. DiGiacomo says development of an “end-to-end energy management protocol system that allows operators to map power consumption to network or traffic load demand” entails “a lot of work” in the spec-setting process. He says it looks like the documents setting the specifications in advance of the actual standardization process will be issued in the first or second quarter of next year whereas the Energy and Density Benchmarks should be ready early in Q1.

The SEMI initiative has grown to be something much bigger than most participants envisioned, notwithstanding its reliance on the voluntary contributions of time and expertise by member MSOs and industry vendors. “When we first started we didn’t conceive of 17 different projects,” DiGiacomo says. “But this is what the team came up with, and all have merit.”

Moreover, the ongoing effort could produce more agenda items over time. “There’s going to be an evolution,” he says. “This is not a once and done thing.”

Other project categories now on the agenda include:

• Predictive Alarming
• Graphical Hardware Specification
• 3D Facility Modeling of Energy
• Virtual Monitoring and Control (telemetry)
• Transaction-Based Energy Consumption
• High Availability Energy Management and Parameterization
• Disaster Recovery
• Business Continuity (high reliability network planning)
• Fleet (alternate fuel, GPS routing, telemetry and procurement)
• Rcycling
• Energy Financial Specifications
• Network-to-Network Power System Interface Specification
• Symbology of Energy Sources for Network Powering and Fleet