Green Business: Inside Intel With Lorie Wigle

Intel pops up frequently in green technology news, not just because of their nifty microprocessors, but also because of the company’s commitment to purchasing renewable energy and reducing energy consumption.

For this week’s Green Business: Behind the Scenes column, I headed out to Intel’s Jones Farm campus in Hillsboro to chat with Intel’s “Queen of Green”, General Manager Lorie Wigle, who heads up Intel’s Eco-Technology program office.  Lorie has been with Intel for over 20 years or as she puts it “her entire adult career.”  She’s a sought after speaker on green tech and energy efficiency including being a keynote speaker at Portland’s GoGreen conference on October 4.

When I see the Intel brand, I remember the catchy ring tone and think of the tiny slice of technology (aka microprocessor) nestled within the framework of my trusty laptop.  Until talking with Lorie, I hadn’t realized how ubiquitous microprocessors have become from wind turbines and smart grid management to smart meters and home appliances.

Lorie describes her role as 2% looking at making the technology itself greener and 98% of how to use technology to enhance energy efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions.  Intel believes that it has the ability to solve big environmental challenges.  Lorie’s focus is on aligning Intel’s business (and future strategy) with the environmental benefits of energy efficiency and reduced emissions.  Lorie and her team are the eco-pathfinders – prototyping ideas that can be scaled up by other business units – to accomplish these goals.

With more electric-powered products from cars to cell phones plugging in, we don’t have unlimited power.   Unsurprisingly, Intel’s large data center customers came to them a few years ago with just this problem: They had floor space for additional computers, but were running out of capacity to power them.

Intel Near Threshold Voltage Processor, Codename Claremont, Intel, Computers

image via Intel

How could Intel help? The simplest and most obvious way was to make their microprocessors more energy efficient. For consumers, that means better battery life for personal computers.  For data centers, the combination of more energy efficient microprocessors, PC power management, and smarter facility management has the ability to deliver substantial bottom line gains and greatly reduce CO2 emissions. But getting all of the necessary stakeholders on board is easier said than done, thus Lorie is also the President of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative (CSCI).

CSCI is a joint venture between Intel and Google that brings major tech giants to the table to help make the entire computing environment and data centers more energy efficient. (EarthTechling is a member too.)  For instance, CSCI encourages software developers to create programs that don’t wake up your computer for non-essential tasks (less pings equals less energy usage).  And CSCI has newly started working with CFOs to help them coordinate how facilities teams at data centers and IT departments can work together to save money as well as reduce energy consumption.

What sparked my imagination most during our interview was a project called POEM at the recently completed Bouygues office in France.  This building complex was conceived to be 10 years ahead of French building regulations and is designed to generate more energy than it consumes.

But, if 50% of a building’s energy usage is determined by what an employee plugs in, how do you incent people to be more energy efficient so you can maintain an energy generating building?   Enter Intel’s Personal Office Energy Manager (POEM), which helps workers understand their energy consumption from printing to temperature control.

Lorie described one version of the POEM desktop tool that displays flowers as a measure of energy efficiency.  When the flowers wilt, you’re being an energy hog.  When you’re saving energy (consuming less than the average), the flowers bloom.    (I haven’t seen this firsthand… but I imagine watching the flowers could be just as addicting as watching your energy consumption in a Prius while driving.)

Each employee’s preferences can be catalogued and managed within the smart building environment.  For example, when two people enter a conference room, what if the building knows what the ideal temperature for those folks is and adjusted the thermostat accordingly? No more freezing, sweltering, or wasting energy.

Lorie talks about putting in her own wind turbine someday on her 25-acre Oregon property and what it will mean for her own energy consumption to have a smart meter installed which helps the entire home be efficient.  As we chronicle the evolution of clean tech from green buildings to smart grid management, it’s pretty fascinating to think that some of those ideas probably originated from the thought leaders at Intel and that everything from massive turbines to smart meters could have Intel inside.

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