Green thinking

There's no shortage of energy-efficient AV gear. Tim Kridel investigates how that selection fits into – and sometimes distracts from – a bigger opportunity.

If you've got a prospective client that values energy efficiency, which titbit of information is likely to have more impact: that a particular model of display consumes a few kilowatts less than rival products over the course of a year, or that a person sitting in a meeting produces an average of about 400 BTU of heat per hour?
The question isn't academic. Instead, it highlights two levels of opportunity for AV integrators looking to cater to the growing number of enterprises, schools and governments that want to reduce their facility's power consumption.
The first level centres around outfitting the facility with highly efficient AV gear, such as Sony’s FWD-S42E1 42-inch LCD display.
"At only 98W power consumption when in full usage, this is around half of the consumption used by other comparable displays," says James Loder, Sony Professional's category marketing manager for business projectors and displays.
The second level of opportunity uses AV gear as entry point: outfit the facility with energy-efficient AV gear, but then look for additional ways -- often centring around control systems -- to save electricity, from automated window shades to configuring Microsoft Exchange so meetings aren't scheduled in rooms on the building's sunny side during the middle of summer.
Some in the industry argue that the second opportunity is bigger in terms of impact and thus revenue opportunity.
“For most buildings, the AV energy use is around 1 percent, at best," says David Wilts, director of integrated building technology at Crestron. “I hate to be blunt, but so what if your audio amplifier uses 1 kW less through the course of the year? That doesn’t mean jack.”

Is €4600 compelling?

If AV power consumption is minuscule in the greater scheme of things, that doesn't mean it's not worth emphasising during the bid and design stages. One reason is because the savings still can add up to a significant amount when measured by currency rather than percentages.
“For example, the FWD-S42E1 in standard use over three years will cost around £100,” says Sony’s Loder. “A comparable LCD display with a power consumption of 175W will cost around £178. This is a saving of £78 on one display. For a large organisation rolling out a 150-screen digital signage set-up, the saving on power consumption alone would be nearly £12,000 [€14,373].”
Whether that’s significant depends on the eye of the beholder, but here’s one way to look at it: The client might be able to use that €14,000 to add a part-time staffer who creates and manages third-party advertising, creating a new revenue stream.
Signage also is an example of how interest in power savings can vary by application.
“[Efficiency] is definitely an issue for digital signage as power consumption can be a big factor in the lifecycle cost for an installation,” says Paul Semenza, senior vice president at DisplaySearch, an analyst firm.

New tricks

As integrator and client interest in energy efficiency grows, so does the selection of products aimed at that market segment. As the category becomes increasingly crowded, the more that vendors have to spend on R&D to come up with new ways to maximise efficiency and thus stand out from the pack.
Prysm’s Laser Phosphor Display (LPD) technology is one vendor that’s attracted attention both for its efficiency and the way that’s played up in its marketing. (For an assessment of LPD, see http://bit.ly/dhIVrs.)
“Prysm's is pretty unique,” Semenza says. “The laser is an efficient way to deliver energy to the phosphor screen, and the two can be tuned to create the most efficient conversion of UV to visible light. It is notable that Prysm uses energy consumption as a key part of its overall marketing pitch, something I have not seen in the display business.”
There’s plenty of innovation on the audio side, too. For example, Powersoft uses power factor correction to give some of its Class D amplifiers extra efficiency: 99 percent when idle and about 96 percent with an 8 ohm load.
“In order to get the same output from our amplifier versus some of our competitors, you’re drawing 50 percent less from the wall,” says Tom Bensen, vice president and director of operations for Powersoft’s U.S. division.
What does that translate into? For one airport, going with an energy-efficient product had a payback of less than four years.
“At the end of 3½ years, they paid for 380 amplifiers, [which] cost close to $1 million,” Bensen says. “So they saved about $1 million in energy costs in 3½ years.”
Amps also illustrate another important factor for certain types of gear: When comparing different vendors’ products, the amount of heat produced can be just as important as more obvious metrics, such as Watts. That’s because if there’s enough heat, the client will have to spend more money on cooling: up front for more AC, the electricity to power the AC or both.
Powersoft reduces both the amp’s heat and power consumption by recycling its Electro Motive Force (EMF) back into the power supply. 
“It’s like the brakes on an electric car that regenerate your electrical system,” Bensen says. “That [also] reduces the amount of radiated heat. Every other amplifier puts it into the heat sink.”

Better performance sometimes

Another reason why energy-efficient gear is worth considering is because it sometimes has side benefits in terms of performance. For example, LED-backlit displays can look noticeably better than their CCFL counterparts.
"Typically you get an improved colour gamut from having a higher spectrum light source," says Young Bae, a director of display product marketing for Samsung’s IT division. "We reach 100 percent of RGB gamut, whereas typically CFLs are around 70 percent.” 
Sony’s BrightEra LCD technology is another example. By shrinking the space between pixels, BrightEra channels about 20 percent more light through each pixel compared to more traditional designs. 
“The result of more light being allowed to pass through the pixel, is that a less bright lamp is required to achieve the required lumen brightness, thus reducing the power consumption,” Loder says. “Due to the fact that the light passing through each pixel is reduced, colours appear truer and more vivid as they are not being washed out by a powerful back lamp.”
How much more efficiency can vendors wring from their products? Time will tell, but analysts and vendors agree that there are still plenty of opportunities.
“For LCD, there are many different  areas of improvement, both within the LCD itself, and in the backlight,” says DisplaySearch’s Semenza. “LED is  probably the most important as it is on such a steep efficiency improvement curve: It has passed 100 lumens/W and could keep going to 200.” 
Other technologies could provide additional efficiency but, at least in their current forms, have trade-offs in cost or performance that keep them relegated to niche plays for now.
“Electrophoretic and other reflective display technologies have very low power consumption but limited colour and video capability, for instance,” Semenza says.

“I was given a Watts budget”

The growing selection of energy-efficient pro AV products dovetails with other industry initiatives, such as InfoComm’s new Sustainable Technology Environment Performance (STEP) Rating System, which provides additional ways to quantify AV’s impact on a facility’s energy consumption. 
In the process, STEP could be a way for integrators to show architects, developers and others the impact that they can have – and make case for including them early on in a facility’s design. Crestron’s Wilts – who’s helping develop STEP – believes that the more clients become interested in efficiency, the more opportunities there are for integrators to become “integrated technology project managers”: the experts who knit together AV, lighting, HVAC, room-booking software and other disparate platforms to maximise efficiency. 
“Nobody is co-ordinating how these systems are going to work together to be as efficient as possible,” Wilts says. “Right now, all of those systems are standalone. If you have an occupancy sensor in the room, it’s feeding only one system, guaranteed. AV needs to lead the design and construction industries in being smarter in all of this technology.”
For that to happen, the AV industry has to position itself as a source of experts.
“AV integrators currently are not a known quantity for a building developer or architect to help in this regard,” says Byron Tarry, general manager at AVW-TELAV, a Canadian integrator. “So we need to get the message out.” 
That expertise also is helpful for accommodating changing requirements, such as at the new Masdar Headquarters Building in the United Arab Emirates. The building features solar panels and other aspects that together are supposed to provide 103 percent of all its power needs.
“I was not given a dollar budget for AV,” Wilts said. “Instead, I was given a watts budget.” 
Wilts had 8 W per square meter as his target. As integrators face similarly thrifty requirements, knowing which super-efficient AV products are available will be important. 
In a sense, energy efficiency is like IT: AV integrators have spent the past several years adding IT skills to accommodate trends such as networked AV gear and to fend off IT integrators looking for new markets in pro AV. A knowledge of energy efficiency products and techniques is another way for integrators to add value and stay relevant.
“The AV industry could lead all of this,” Wilts says. “Or they could follow and lose even more scope.”

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