An article on The Register recently reported Intel as promoting energy efficiency in business IT departments. Purportedly, businesses are taking their environmental impact more seriously in the wake of the Stern report out of the UK. Yet empty office towers still light up the night sky.
I work the night shift in a call centre (doing tech support). There's only about ten people in the building at night, yet all the lights are left on: on the production floor, in the cafeteria, meeting rooms, hallways, and the washrooms. All the computers are left on as well (hundreds of desktop computers with nobody sitting at the desk for over 12 hours each day).
When I'm bored, I can wander through the building turning off computer monitors. Approximately 40% of the computers are not set up to power off their monitors after an inactivity period, so they run 24 hours a day (at ~100W consumption each for CRTs).
I'm certain that a much higher percentage (probably >95%) don't have their hard drives set to power down after inactivity, so that means the hard drives spin 24 hours a day too (~10W power consumption, plus hard drives die regularly).
If monitors and hard drives were set to power down after 1 hour of inactivity, they probably wouldn't inconvenience anyone by powering down at all during the work day. But those two simple settings would mean each computer would consume over 1200W less power in a day if the computer powered down for only 12 hours of the day.
Multiply by several hundred (or thousand) computers per business, multiply by the number of businesses fitting this profile, and we'd probably be able to shut down a few power plants, breathe cleaner air, meet Kyoto targets, and be seen internationally as environmental heroes. (And that's before we start turning off lights in empty buildings!)
It would be even better if workers also set their workstations to enter standby or hibernate mode after a period of time, but monitors and hard drives would be a good start. (You should do this with your home computer too.)
Just right-click on your desktop, choose Properties, go to the Screen Saver tab, and click the Power button by the EnergyStar logo. Then choose how long you want the computer to wait before it powers down when you're not using it.
Simple measures like this can really make a difference. We all need to engage our brains and act collectively for the greater good. If you need more incentive than lower taxes (power plants are extremely expensive to build and maintain), cleaner air (which reduces health care costs and saves lives), and helping to address global warming... then think of all the money you'll be saving on electricity bills.
Addendum: If you don't trust me, take it from the Google Blog.