With all of AOL Energy’s reporting on energy policy and regulation across the country and even the world, we have not forgotten to look at what we’re doing right here at home.

AOL has been busy implementing various energy savings programs since its very inception. According to AOL’s very own energy guru Brenda Rian, this was initially because data centers, filled with computers that host every word and program featured on AOL, easily gobble up megawatts of energy (This is mostly because the computers must be constantly cooled to prevent overheating).

Even before it was chic to be energy efficient, AOL entered the space because, like other early internet companies, there was no other choice as energy needs spiked. The company has since continued to improve efficiency of its data centers and in just the last few years technology experts converted the data centers to a cloud computing model that uses virtual central processing units (CPU’s) to store data.

“By implementing a cloud computing environment, hardware deployment was removed as an impediment to the business expansion. The time to procure, assign, provision and boot a machine was reduced from eight weeks to ten seconds by having virtual servers,” Rian wrote in an application for the 2011 Green IT Award.

The model, which will save AOL an estimated $700,000 in direct costs and an additional $1 million in avoided costs, can be seen here:

Although Rian did not officially initiate that project–it was begun to allow AOL to expand on a cost-effective scale–she is the only AOL employee that oversees energy efficiency programs across all departments. But other employees have taken the lead in their specific areas of expertise.

“Every 10% utilization increase we can get is $750,000 in savings in utilities,” Rian told Breaking Energy.

She said that one of the challenges AOL faces in implementing energy efficiency programs is that savings do not necessarily directly feed back into the group that initiated the program. The cloud computing initiative, for example, added a 20% surcharge on servers for the technology group while the electricity bill is paid by an entirely different department.

The challenge, she said, is “matching up point ‘a’ to point ‘b’ and having everyone understand that its a goal for AOL in the long run but may pinch your [department’s] budget.”

Rian is officially known as senior manager of environmental health and safety at AOL, including responsibility for safety, environmental programs, sustainability, “green” initiatives, and EPA & OSHA issues. She has been with AOL since 2002–she was previously employed by GE as VP of environmental health & safety programs–and started almost immediately to implement a wide variety of initiatives.

By 2004, the company had upgraded its six Dulles buildings–the only AOL facility fully built, owned and operated by the company–to be Energy Star Certified, a title awarded in joint program between the EPA and the US DOE that recognizes the top 25% most energy efficient buildings.

All AOL buildings now also have ceramic films on all sun-facing windows to keep out heat and glare, it uses LED or florescent lights instead of incandescent bulbs when possible, there are motion sensors or daylights sensors on lights where possible so they automatically shut off when not in use, and HVAC systems are immediately shut after 7pm on weekdays and for weekends (Heating and cooling can be manually adjusted when necessary in specific zones of the building.)

“Buildings are notoriously energy hogs,” Rian told Breaking Energy. On particularly hot or cold days in Spring and Fall, when power plants are facing unusual peaks in demand, she said AOL facilities engineers manually adjust HVAC for load shedding.

Although Rian has looked at much larger projects, like investing in rooftop solar panels or small-sized wind turbines, she said that AOL is not prepared to invest in alternative energy projects with a return on investment time line that can run to 20 years.

Photo Caption: Chairman and CEO of AOL Tim Armstrong.