CBS Newsletter
Fall 1997
pg. 3

Aerial view of Washington D.C.

News From the D.C. Office

Energy-Saving Office Equipment Part 2: Making the "Virtual Office" Real

More on the DC Office efficiency up-grade: Lighting, Office Equipment: Part 1

Regular readers of the Center for Building Science News know that energy-efficient lighting and office equipment can have significant environmental and economic benefits. Previous articles ("Monitored Savings from Energy-Efficient Lighting in D.C. Office" [Spring 1997, p. 3] and "Energy-Saving Office equipment" [Summer 1997, p. 3]) discussed these features of Berkeley Lab's Washington, D.C. office. The D.C. office also serves as a demonstration site for telecommunications technologies, which have energy and environmental benefits of their own.

For example, in avoided travel and commute costs alone, our teleconferencing, communications, and remote-computing systems currently save us an estimated 405 GJ (385 MBtu) of energy and $37,500 per year in travel costs and staff time. These savings are bound to increase in the future, as the technology improves and people learn to make even more effective use of it. In addition, an intangible benefit accrues to Berkeley Lab employees and clients: these communications technologies bring people closer by making information distribution easier and meetings-at-a-distance more frequent.

Phone and Video Conferencing

Conference phone calls are now commonplace for group conferencing at a distance. In the D.C. office, two phones are available for conference calls. These phones have special circuitry that compensates for different voice levels throughout a large room. They require a dedicated power supply, which uses 5 to 10 W whether actively in use or "off." While we make an effort to physically unplug the phones when not in use, a better design would have the off switch on the primary (110 V) side of the power supply, preventing it from "leaking electricity." (This is true for many power supplies, a major source of "leaking electricity" consumption in homes and offices.)

When audio conferencing isn't enough, researchers can turn to video-conferencing equipment. The D.C. office provides a monitor and camera for conventional two-way visual transmission, plus a separate overhead-projector-type camera for transmiting of presentation graphics. At each site, the video camera, monitor, and associated routing equipment draw 390 W in operation and 23 W when "off."

We are increasingly using video conferencing for simultaneous seminar presentations in Berkeley and Washington (originated at either site). The phone and/or video-conference systems are used 3 to 4 times per week, and we estimate that at least one cross-country trip is avoided for every 10 phone or video conferences. Each avoided round-trip saves about 21 GJ (20 MBtu) and 0.4 metric tons of carbon. In energy terms, this is the equivalent of more than 7000 hours of video-conferencing equipment use! Dollar savings are also significant-a two-hour conference call costs only 1/20 as much as travel costs and staff time for one round-trip from Washington to Berkeley.

Computer Remote Access

Quick and easy access to data and electronic documents can be just as important as person-to-person communication. Electronic documents are easily exchanged, viewed, or interactively edited using the Lab's local and wide-area networks. Staff in the D.C. office can remotely access e-mail, files, and the Internet through dial-up connections while working at home, or on business travel anywhere in the U.S. or overseas. Extending these services allows us to benefit from flexible workplaces and schedules while maintaining close contact with our colleagues and clients. Electronic document-sharing saves a substantial amount of printing, copying and mailing of paper documents, conservatively estimated at 500 sheets per week.

In keeping with the Berkeley Lab policy of "one Lab, two sites," network services like printing and file sharing promote collaboration between Berkeley- and D.C.-based researchers. For example, documents can be printed from Berkeley directly to the D.C. office's laser printer, allowing us to deliver them to DOE headquarters within minutes. Files can also be posted on the Lab's intranet for review by research collaborators anywhere in the world.


While the systems described here are now relatively common in business and government, the D.C. office is also a showcase for future technologies designed to support remote science through "virtual co-Laboratories" and Internet-based "distance learning."

Current video-conferencing facilities usually require special retransmission facilities to allow more than two locations to share in the exchange. Berkeley Lab is developing a new method of video-conferencing on the Internet-the Multicast Backbone, or M-Bone. One day in the near future, anyone with a PC and an Internet connection may be able to participate in real-time audio-visual presentations. More information on the M-Bone is available at and at

The LBNL Data Visualization Laboratory, recently installed at both the Berkeley and D.C. sites, extends the concept of virtual research collaboration by creating a powerful visual environment for analyzing complex data sets-ranging from oil field extraction rates to photometrically accurate rendering of work surfaces in an office with complex daylighting design. Use of 3-D virtual reality simulations allows combustion modelers or building designers to gain a whole new perspective-literally-on complex data sets.

—Christopher Payne

More on the DC Office efficiency up-grade: Lighting, Office Equipment: Part 1

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Christopher Payne
Washington D.C. Projects Office
(202) 484-0880; (202) 484-0888 fax

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