Energy Costs and Video Surveillance

By: Brian Rhodes, Published on Aug 07, 2012

Should you be concerned about the energy costs from your surveillance systems? Are these a hidden killer or can certain products deliver huge savings? In this note, we break down the energy costs for surveillance system, examining the impact of recorders and cameras plus we examine cooling costs as well as conservation initiatives such as LEED and their potential impact.

Energy Cost of Surveillance

As a rough rule of thumb, a 16 camera surveillance system will have annual energy costs in the few hundred dollar range. That's a fairly low percentage of the total installed cost, which can be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The exact costs and potential savings depend on a number of factors:

  • COTS PC vs Appliance
  • PTZs vs Fixed Cameras
  • Length of Operation
  • Including Cooling Costs

Recorder power consumption is a major factor in overall system costs and can range significantly. For instance, some embedded appliances claim power consumption of ~50 watts while some off the shelf workstations can consume 200+ watts of power. Using a rule of thumb of $1 in annual energy costs per additional watt of power, the appliance might save $150+ per year. While this may not be huge, it could add up.

[Note: Use this energy calculator to try out your own scenarios. We used 13 cents per KWh and 24 hours a day.]

PTZ cameras consume 3 - 5 times more power than fixed cameras. For instance, fixed cameras routinely consume 5 watts while PTZs can consume 20+ watts. While this may increase annual energy costs by $15 - $20 per PTZ, the bigger issue will be that PTZs cost hundreds if not thousands more to purchase.

Estimating the lifespan of the system is a tricky yet key element. On the plus side, surveillance systems are often used for a decade, implying that annual energy costs should be multiplied by 10x to show their true cost impact. Furthermore, many if not most believe that energy prices will only go up in the future. However, savings in the future are generally discounted given the time value of money. As such, it depends on the organization but using 5x the annual cost might be regularly defensible.

Cooling costs are also an element though many organizations do not factor in. While a data center might track this carefully, a restaurant may think nothing of it. However, a common rough of thumb is that cooling costs are roughly equal to power costs (e.g., ENERGYSTAR reference). In addition, local geography plays a big role. Some portions of the globe require less conditioned cooling, as evidenced by the recent trend to locate datacenters in artic areas for 'natural' cooling. The decision to include cooling impact into operation energy costs is a local decision that changes from one site to the next.

Overall Cost Factors

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For energy to be factor, it needs to be (1) a significant cost and (2) a cost that varies significantly by vendor. Meeting both in surveillance today is hard. The most engaged will be users that look at energy costs over a long time frame and factor in cooling. For them, the total energy costs may be 30% or more of the total installation cost. For those, the recorder / storage costs are the most likely to merit review. However, even within them the potential savings are not likely to be a huge factor unless the comparison is to a competitor who is extremely energy inefficient.

LEED / Corporate Initiatives

Pure costs is only half the story as energy conservation certifications and programs are growing in strength.

Perhaps the best publicised 'green building' initiatives are LEED certifications, or 'Leadership in Energy and Environment Design'. LEED has gained recognition in both North American and Europe as a metric for evaluating the 'green' impact of buildings, either concept or already constructed. LEED defines a set of certifications, with a scope that ranges from residential design to commercial renovations. Part of the typical LEED criteria is evaluation of the environmental impact of specified building materials, from which regions those materials are sourced, how energy efficient building subsystems operate, and what local impact a building has on water and air resources.

Depending on how local ordinances are structured, if a building required to be LEED-compliant falls short of the mark, the building owner may face tax penalties or be required to amend shortcomings before occupancy is approved. In most cases, tax incentives and environmental stewardship goals are the primary motivation behind compliant buildings.

While the scope of LEED and other 'green' corporate initiatives are too broad to specifically focus on video surveillance, the cumulative environmental impact the system contributes combined with other building operations certainly bear consideration during design. Surveillance system designers and integrators may be challenged to use equipment that contributes to these larger outcomes.

In some cases, corporate commitments to 'green initiatives' trump the financial justification. Whether these companies do so to gain marketing collateral and good market sentiment, or they have true conscience to be minimize environmental impact and needless consumption of electricity, buying 'green' does not always result in lower system costs.

Practical Impact

We recently gathered feedback from our LinkedIn members [link no longer available] on how commonly they encounter 'green' requirements in the field and get a sense of how it may impact buying decisions. A review of their responses reveals that energy conservation for surveillance systems is at most secondary consideration during purchases, and carries the highest weight in large centralized systems or companies with internal 'green' programs.

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