In a recent oil disaster, Shrek 3 had a supporting role.

A large, unnamed oil company recently exploited an application originally created for DreamWorks Studios by Hewlett-Packard in order to get a clearer picture of an ongoing disaster. The technical application for analyzing the spill resided in Australia and the engineers who needed to view it resided in Houston.

The complex calculations and graphics rendering process took place in Australia: only specific pixels of the graphical images went to Houston. In other words, the workstations and servers became thin clients. DreamWorks had the program created to cut bandwidth costs, but in a crisis mode, it came through, said Ian Mitton, worldwide director of utility industries at HP, during a meeting last week at DistribuTECH.

HP hasn’t touted its capabilities in energy and utilities as much as IBM, Intel, Google and SAP have, but that picture may begin to change. Two years ago, HP hoovered up consulting giant EDS. Just as importantly, it has been actively examining internal software tools to see how they could fit into energy.

The company, for instance, is tinkering with ways to exploit its Exstream printing application to utility bills. Utilities -- surprise! -- are notoriously bad when it comes to communicating facts and trends about energy consumption and conservation to consumers. With Exstream, the idea will be to see if it is possible to reformat data or squeeze messages into white space. The company has also commissioned studies to learn more about motivational factors and consumer behavior. In Austria, it is participating in a car-charging pilot.

HP’s Utility Center software platform, Mitton added, originally derives from technology developed in the networking group.

And like Cisco, HP is actively promoting videoconferencing. Substituting video links for air travel has emerged as one of the most cost-effective ways to save energy. At SAP, a videoconferencing unit paid for itself in one year in avoided travel costs. Along with large conference room-sized units, HP has come out with desktop versions.