As well as focusing on the data centre, Green IT can also mean the application of IT to bring about a green result outside of the data centre. I like to call this “external” Green IT.

Electric vehicles would be one example, running on clean, abundant, and renewable sources of fuel.

The flurry of recent announcements on this subject from car makers has led to a surge of interest in electric vehicles. Replacing oil with electricity as a transportation fuel reduces emissions; brings diversity in the form of varying and renewable sources of electricity; and increases security, in the form of energy independence.

According to an Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) study, the adoption of Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles is expected to reduce cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by between 3.4bn and 10.3bn metric tons by 2050.

But electric vehicles need to be plugged into the grid to recharged their batteries, and the infrastructure to provide this charging service does not yet exist. Owners parking their cars in a home garage can plug into an electrical outlet, but the majority of cars are parked outside. Our research further shows drivers want to charge their cars at their destination as well, in order to “top off” their battery, similar to the way one routinely plugs in a cell phone whether it is charged or not.

Providing simple outlets in public areas is fraught with problems. For safety and liability reasons, municipalities and car park owners do not want to have unprotected outlets available for use by anyone and anything with a power cord. Nor do they want people “stealing” electricity. Similarly, customers may want to charge their vehicles only when the electricity is plentiful and so rates are favourable – for example, at night. And in times of peak loading, utility companies may want to “shed” the load presented by the charging infrastructure, in order to prevent problems in the grid.

All of these concerns argue for “smart” charging stations which can limit access to authorised users; implement sophisticated profiles that allow owners to charge their cars when most efficient for the grid; and provide the advanced load management features required by utility companies.

Smart charging stations contain a secure door to prevent unauthorised users from plugging in and the outlet can be switched off remotely when not required. It is further enhanced by built-in fault protection and over-current protection when actively charging a vehicle. IT is essential in delivering all of this.

Many of these “smart” features are implemented directly and locally in the smart charging station itself. The more sophisticated features, including user authorisation, rate optimisation, and utility-based load management, require an IT infrastructure and a communication network to facilitate communication between the management application and the charging stations. IT infrastructures, of course, excel in performing operations and management of remote hardware devices, such as smart charging stations.

At Coulomb, we have developed the ChargePoint Network that ensures only authorised users can charge their vehicles at a smart charging station, employing user smart cards and a card reader at each station. The station reads the user’s ID from the card, and sends data to a server over a secure channel. The server authorises the user and, if approved, sends a secure message back to the charging station to allow the user to charge their vehicle. At that point, the door unlocks, and the cord can be plugged in.

The management application servers are built on standard IT platforms. The communication network consists of local and wide-area wireless communication links, along with secure public and private wired networks. All communications are secured using standard web-oriented technologies such as HTTPS.

By employing standard, mature, application-hosting and networking technologies, such infrastructures can be used to spread Green IT far beyond the data centre.

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