TV facilities go green

Saving Mother Earth can be good for the pocketbook.
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A recent report developed by the BPM Forum (an organization that helps advance the understanding of business performance management techniques, technologies and processes in global enterprises), in conjunction with server and storage manufacturer Rackable Systems and Intel, said that 99 percent of people think it's important for the media and entertainment industry to reduce its carbon footprint.

Going green is good for the environment, but it's also a way for broadcasters to save money in the long term. And, in this economy, pinching every penny can help you keep your job. This article will explore ways that broadcasters can go green, looking at it from three perspectives: a broadcaster, manufacturer and systems integrator.

NBCU is eco-friendly

Over the past few years, NBCU has taken a three-step initiative to improve energy efficiency while at the same time reducing costs and streamlining operations. One part of the three-step process focused on consolidating heavy metal operations to increase the efficiency of shared resources.

According to Kendall Bryant, manager of Green is Universal at NBCU, “This enables a focus on improving and maintaining these core resources and allows NBCU to control the growth of the biggest power consumers — servers, equipment rooms, storage, routers, etc.”

The second step focuses on minimizing the amount of gear “just left on” in control rooms and production facilities.

Bryant says, “For too long, the practice of leaving equipment on 24×7×365 was overlooked as newer equipment was installed. Now, NBCU is auditing what machines can be shut off without disrupting routine operations. A big opportunity is through the move from analog to digital and SD to HD.”

The network has been focused on shutting down old systems and areas that are no longer in use from the SD to HD transition. Bryant says, for years, the industry was running on dual analog and digital systems but now with the official transition, broadcasters can move to a single system. This not only saves on space, but it also saves on energy to run and cool the systems.

The third step in NBCU's green initiative is enabling staff and crew to utilize desktop tools as the technologies improve. This will focus the need for large facilities that have intensive energy and cooling requirements on only specialized functions.

Recently, the network built a new set for the “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” show, using many types of green practices. Before preproduction had even begun, Leo Yoshimori, set designer, worked with Bob Usdin from Showman Fabricators, a local set production firm, to determine ways in which they could improve the sustainability of the set. The location includes:

  • Sets constructed with FSC plywood (wood that is responsibly harvested).
  • Low or no volatile organic compounds (VOC) paints, which reduces off-gassing from paint substances.
  • Bamboo floors throughout the interview area. (Bamboo is highly sustainable due to its quick growth.)
  • A recycled desk. (The desk used by Fallon is formerly the desk of the set designer Leo Yoshimori.)
  • Set décor (doors) reclaimed from local salvage stores.
  • Metal platforms for the band rather than wood.
  • Eco-friendly equipmentReclaimed and refurbished seating rather than new seats.
  • Carpeting on the audience risers and a band platform made of recycled materials.

According to Bryant, “In Studio 8H, where SNL is taped, we are proposing a specialized lighting grid cooling system. Studio 8H is used for many purposes, so the lights are often left on. To protect the lights from overheating, rather than keeping the entire studio at very low temperatures, a cooling system will be directed toward the lighting grid only, reducing the amount of energy needed to keep the lights operating at optimum capability.”

Reusing rather than building from scratch has been an important focus of NBCU's green initiative. When the network transitioned MSNBC's Control Room 3A to HD, the team spent two weeks before beginning the project to assess which equipment could accommodate HD technical specifications.

Bryant says, “There was an enormous time and energy savings in this exercise as wires, cables, consoles, jackfields and racks were used from the former control room — not to mention the incredible amount of waste that was diverted from landfill.”

Consolidating equipment creates a cost savings through energy reduction. Moving more work to desktops, edit and GFX thereby reducing the need for heavy metal systems also saves space, allowing for a more streamlined operation. Bryant says NBCU is still transitioning but looks forward to when the transition is complete and it can accurately assess the savings.

During this recession, it is the perfect time to inventory systems, pare down to what is necessary and to promote better usage of systems that are already in place instead of building more pockets of new systems, Bryant says.

“Going green isn't just about solar panels and wind farms, but about looking at the way your business operates and improving the efficiency of how you produce and distribute content,” she says. “See the opportunity in a down economy with lower numbers of capital projects as a way to focus internally and prepare for the future.”

A flurry of new broadcast equipment has stormed the market, boasting equal or greater features and functionality but in smaller packages. Now there are products that use state-of-the-art FPGAs, which ensure that electrical component usage is minimized. FPGA technology also extends the life of the product as new features and functionality can be added remotely without costly hardware upgrades. In addition, look for products that are RoHS-compliant, meaning they don't contain lead-based components, which are harmful to the environment.

Nevion's executive vice president of marketing, John Glass, says making an even bigger impact is the performance of these products while they are in service. Nevion, formerly Network Electronics, produces global video transport solutions.

“Clearly, the amount of power the product consumes has a direct impact on the broadcaster's carbon footprint,” Glass says. “And, the reduced product size plays out in reduced demand on the air-conditioned space in the equipment room; reduction in generated heat means avoiding waste twice — first in spending power to create heat, second in spending power on air-conditioning to remove the same heat.”

So what's in it for the broadcaster?

Glass says, “Products that help broadcasters reduce their carbon footprints also help them save money and reduce maintenance requirements, such as cleaning and repairing fans.”

The reduced size of green equipment makes it more convenient for broadcasters to deploy the system in a limited space, and it's more portable in temporary deployment situations.

When shopping for new equipment, compare power consumption and the physical footprint of the product. In addition, look at the level of integration offered by different products. For example, selecting a “universal” card that can accept and transmit any professional video format enables broadcasters to purchase and deploy one card instead of many to support a variety of formats.

Martyn Horspool, television product manager, Harris Broadcast Communications, says, “New transmitter designs are up to 30 percent more energy efficient than previous generation designs, reducing power consumption and hence reducing generation of greenhouse gases by the utility company.”

Horspool adds that broadcasters can achieve energy savings by using more efficient RF devices, automatic adaptive precorrection (allowing devices to be driven closer to saturation), low loss combining and RF components, and by carefully selecting power supply components to minimize losses.

New transmitter designs are more “power dense” than previous ones, reducing floor space and building size. According to Horspool, reduced room size helps minimize overall system energy costs by decreasing heating, cooling and air-conditioning costs. Most new high-power, solid-state transmitters use liquid cooling systems to efficiently remove heat from the building. A well-designed liquid-cooled transmitter uses liquid not only to cool the power amplifiers but also other heat generating components such as power supplies, RF combiners and RF reject loads. Using these techniques reduces the overall heat load to the building. This can dramatically reduce the size of air-conditioning units needed for the building, therefore lessening energy requirements.

Designing a green facility

From a systems integrator standpoint, Mark Siegel, president of Advanced Broadcast Solutions (ABS), echoes the sentiments above, saying that decreasing power consumption is the main way broadcasters can “go green.” The most important considerations are HVAC and electrical.

Siegel says, “Reducing people reduces power consumption. There is nothing more that puts off heat than people. That's a joke. But it's true.” Minimizing the number of people in studio audiences and the control room means less heat is generated; hence, it decreases the need to cool down a facility.

Also, consider the way that lighting impacts power.

“For 20 years, we've been looking at fluorescent-based lighting vs. incandescent to reduce the cost of power consumption and reduce the cost of heat,” Siegel says.

Now LED lighting is becoming an attractive solution. Broadcasters need to consider how much heat lighting produces, which impacts the amount of HVAC they have to pump into a facility.

A third way that Siegel suggests broadcasters can be more eco-friendly is by using a green screen.

“We cut down an awful lot of trees to create these sets. And these sets are very expensive. To light a green screen, you light it once, and it stays that way. So you create your set, lighting mood and lighting direction within the artificial environment.”

Using a green screen rather than a set can be more cost-effective, as it is easier to light and eliminates the amount of power used. At the end of the day, Siegel says it may require additional tooling and expense to establish green practices in a broadcast facility, but the long-term benefits are worth it.

“Unfortunately, the management mentality these days is reducing people,” he says. “I think they can look for other places within their facility to reduce. Implement better practices, such as, when a studio is not in use, let's shut that stuff down. Implement better control systems on HVAC. Some people have these very large facilities that they've had for years, and people have been spread out throughout the building. Why not consolidate that space? If you can save $3000-$4000 a month on power or HVAC, that's $3000-$4000 a month that you don't have to sell.”

Conclusion

Jumping on the green bandwagon is the popular thing to do right now. Conserving energy, using recycled materials and reducing headcount are just a few things discussed in this article, all of which may save your broadcast TV facility money in the long term. Also consider hiring a systems integrator or contacting your local utility. Both of these resources can offer advice for how to employ green practices and save on power.

For more tips about going green, visit Broadcast Engineering's blog at http://blog.broadcastengineering.com/brad/.

Angela Snell is the production editor for Broadcast Engineering.