It is estimated that the nation’s servers and data centers consumed about 61 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2006, which was 1.5 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption. The levels of consumption and costs likely have grown as data centers require larger amounts of energy to run and maintain the computer systems, servers, telecommunications, and associated high-performance components, along with the redundant Internet connections; the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system; fire suppression; redundant uninterruptible power supplies (UPS); and high-security systems needed to protect them.
As a matter of fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), under current efficiency trends, national energy consumption by servers and data centers could reach more than 100 billion kWh by 2011, representing $7.4 billion in annual electricity costs. The implications include increased energy costs for business and government, increased emissions, increased strain on existing power grids, and increased capital costs as data centers expand their capacity or construct new facilities. That is why the agency is working with industry to curtail the rapid growth of data center energy consumption.

“At 12 percent a year, data centers are the fastest growing part of the energy segment of our economy,” said Paul Scheihing, technology manager for the Industrial Technologies Program (ITP) in the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

The DOE’s two areas of support fall into the broad categories of providing data center operators with the tools, training and expertise required to assess energy-efficiency improvement opportunities and research programs. This past January, for example, the DOE awarded $47 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for 14 projects across the country for research, development and demonstration projects in equipment and software and in power supply chain and advanced cooling technologies.

To help with training, the DOE’s ITP offers the industry a suite of Data Center Energy Profile (DC Pro) tools that help identify and evaluate energy-efficiency opportunities in data centers as well as the Data Center Certified Energy Practitioner Program (DC-CEP).

“One goal of the program is to have at least 200 certified practitioners by 2011 who are qualified to identify, evaluate, and address energy-efficiency opportunities in electrical system, air management, HVAC, information technology (IT) equipment, and on-site generation,” Scheihing said.

Latest trends
Utilities offering incentives and rebates as a way of adapting to the increased loads demanded by the growth in telecommunications and data centers is one trend observed by Mark Szalkus, power quality marketing manager for GE Digital Energy, a business of GE Enterprise Solutions, Lombard, Ill.

“Embedded within many utilities’ standards for rebates are energy-efficiency rating specifications a building needs to meet to receive the monetary incentives,” he said.

According to Russell Senesac, director, data center business development for APC by Schneider Electric, West Kingston, R.I., advancements have been made in all areas of IT to improve efficiencies.
Designs are even calling for power distribution to the IT loads using customer-configurable receptacle systems to make it easier to adapt to future needs. UPS systems are also seeing increased use of high-efficiency designs, according to Chris Loeffler, global applications manager, data center solutions, Eaton Corp., Raleigh, N.C.

Need to know
In order to educate their clients, electrical contractors need to be aware of the various DOE, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and utility energy--efficiency programs that are available.

“Contractors can add value by being able to find the specific energy-efficient, reliable products that meet the growing number of sustainability requirements, utility rebate and incentive programs, and emissions and energy-efficiency standards,” Szalkus said.

According to Senesac, to help their clients improve IT and telecommunications energy efficiency, “contractors need to fully understand power-usage effectiveness [PUE] and how it is measured, they need to know where they can leverage PUE, and they need to understand what has the biggest impact on PUE improvement,” he said.

With that understanding comes the ability to offer the end-user the right sizing of systems for the environment.

In February, the DOE and EPA—in collaboration with organizations including the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, The Green Grid, Energy Star, the Uptime Institute, and the U.S. Green Building Council—agreed on energy-efficiency measurements, metrics and reporting conventions for data center facilities. The guiding principles of the agreement focus on PUE and what energy consumption measurements are used to determine it. Contractors need to have a firm grasp of these concepts to guide their data center clients in making energy-efficiency improvement decisions.


BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.