Austin Energy is no Johnny-come-lately to energy efficiency among US companies. The $1.2 billion power company estimates that it has saved energy equivalent to the output of a 660MW power plant since 1985, when it launched the first in an extensive line-up of innovative energy conservation and renewable resources programs. Austin Energy's goal is to boost that total savings by an additional 750 megawatts of power by 2020.

Also, for the sixth year in a row, the city-owned power company ranks as the No. 1 seller of green energy, including solar and wind power, among all US electric utilities.

"We pride ourselves on being one of the most progressive utilities in the world," says CIO Andres Carvallo.

The most important goal of Austin Energy's energy-saving initiatives is reducing reliance on electricity and thus lowering overall carbon dioxide emissions. To reach that goal, it plans to use technologies such as smart appliances to monitor and control power usage at customer sites. The utility also plans to implement new server and storage technology, including multi-core CPUs, virtualisation, and de-duplication and compression techniques in its own datacentre.

Currently, the company's 1,600- person IT department is running just over 600 servers on 150 physical machines. This translates to 40 percent energy savings, says Carvallo.

What's special: Uses server virtualisation to run 600 servers on just 150 physical machines, thus slicing energy use by 40 percent.

What's cheap: Receives 35 percent of revenue online.

Austin Energy's IT group manages 195,000 real-time devices used for automated electricity metering and distribution. That number will increase to 500,000 devices by early 2009. The company also now receives 35 percent of its revenue online, up from no online payments in 2003.

Henry Wong, a member of The Green Grid consortium, lauds Austin Energy's IT efforts, which have enabled the utility to communicate with customers about their time-sensitive power requirements. A so-called smart power grid, which delivers power when needed and conserves power when it isn't needed, would be impossible without such communication, he says.

"We know that technology can facilitate that with better automation and controls," adds Wong. "Austin Energy is willing to become the proving ground by offering that automation to monitor demand and have systems capable of being able to react to that demand."