How Green Is Your Security?

Everyone nowadays talks about going green, becoming sustainable and environmentally friendly. Major retailers like Wal-Mart are touting eco-friendly products on their shelves. Automobile manufacturers like Toyota are changing the transportation landscape with more fuel-efficient cars. Computer manufacturers like Apple are promoting laptops with more recyclable components and lower carbon footprints. So how can the security industry do its part in reducing the environmental impact of the systems it uses to protect people and property?

Actually, there are a number of steps that can be taken to make security and surveillance systems greener. The key is resource consumption. Being green is all about using fewer raw materials and expending less energy. Here are a few ideas worth considering:

Select Greener Cameras
When making the choice between analog and network cameras, consider that network cameras deliver more functionality than their analog counterparts but generally use the same amount of energy to operate. Built-in analytic features such as motion detection, higher resolution and two-way audio functions eliminate the need to install and maintain separate, energy-consuming systems to augment surveillance coverage. These added features might also reduce the overall number of cameras needed for the installation.
How much power the network camera actually consumes depends on the chips that drive the camera. ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) chips tend to be smaller in size and consume less power than general-purpose processors and DSPs (digital signal processors). Be aware that some cameras use co-processors, which not only consume more power, but also use more raw materials in their production.

Another point to consider when selecting a camera is how the unit is packaged for shipment. How many boxes does the vendor nest inside the outer container? Is the material recyclable or biodegradable, or will it sit in a landfill for generations to come? Often, if you buy multiple cameras in a bulk pack, much less packaging will be used than if you bought each camera individually.

Selecting Greener Cabling
When making the choice between coax and Ethernet cable, consider that coax uses more material per foot of cable, something you can easily tell by simply weighing the cable or trying to carry 100 feet of it. Furthermore, an Ethernet cable does the work of multiple power and communication cables because it not only powers the camera, it transmits the video and audio, as well as I/O commands to and from the camera. In a coax analog environment, you would need a separate cable for each function. And with the new 802.11at Ethernet standard, even a network pan/tilt/zoom camera can now be powered off of the same, single Ethernet cable, which will also transmit the PTZ commands.

Another thing to consider in choosing cable is that in an analog surveillance solution, each analog camera would need a coax cable that ran all the way to the head-end. In an IP-based surveillance solution, the network camera would only need a short run of Ethernet cable to attach it to the network like any other peripheral device.

In some installations, you could eliminate the environmental impact of cabling altogether by using wireless network technology. However, it is important to remember that communication over a wireless network consumes more power than communication over a cable infrastructure, which might increase the environmental impact.

Making Data Centers More Eco-Friendly
Beyond cameras and cabling, another green opportunity is the data center where the video is stored. The beauty of an eco-friendly server environment is that lowering energy consumption directly reduces operating overhead. So here are a few ideas to consider that can reduce the energy needed to dissipate heat from the server racks, which consumes a major portion of energy in a data center:

• Select energy-efficient servers and high-efficiency power supplies to further contain energy consumption.
• Use server virtualization to increase productivity of active machines. You could eliminate inactive hardware and thereby significantly reduce energy consumption.
• Run variable-speed fans at slower speeds during non-peak hours when equipment is not generating as much heat.
• Consider deploying water chillers with massive thermal reservoirs that can cool water on the roof of the building during night hours. The cold water can be used to cool the equipment for several hours during peak times, drastically reducing traditional cooling costs.

Of course, the best thing is to use as few resources as possible in the data center. One way to achieve that is to deploy H.264 compression technology for video transmission. H.264 compression used in network cameras and video encoders reduces files sizes and data streams by as much as 50 percent compared to MPEG-4 compression, and as much as 80 percent compared to Motion JPEG compression. This will enable you to reduce the amount of hard disk space you need to support your network video system, saving significant capital expense and energy consumption.

Monitoring Operations Remotely
Surveillance systems with remote monitoring capabilities afford many businesses a number of other ways to protect the environment. In the retail world especially, an IP-based surveillance solution can do double duty as a loss prevention tool and a way to remotely oversee operations throughout a chain from a central location.
Some retailers are already saving millions of dollars in travel costs by remotely monitoring store operations. This not only goes directly to their bottom line, but eliminates the energy consumption and environmental impact of countless trips by air, train and car going from store to store.

Heading Down a Green Path
Turning your surveillance system green is a multi-step process. And not all steps apply to all organizations. But green decisions are gaining momentum as competitive differentiators, both for vendors providing solutions and, more importantly, for end-users trying to improve their bottom lines and enhance their public profiles as eco-conscious companies.

Fredrik Nilsson is General Manager of the Americas for Axis Communications and author of the book “Intelligent Network Video.” Check out his “Eye on Video” series of articles at