Editor's Pick

Power Down

Two years ago, Verizon Communications’ 30,000 facilities worldwide consumed more than 9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. Energy costs to operate and cool Verizon’s communications equipment accounted for a significant portion of its total corporate energy bill.

With electricity generally driving the largest chunk of operating costs in data center and communications facilities, especially in high utility-rate states, Verizon developed aggressive green initiatives to reduce consumption. For example, Verizon initiated energy-efficiency audits of its biggest data and communications centers in California in an effort to implement cost-cutting power solutions at existing facilities. The audit results guided Verizon’s selection of its 10 most sensitive and largest revenue-producing data centers built between the 1980s to 2000, ranging in size from 50,000 to 150,000 square feet.

The provider of broadband and wireless/wireline communication services targeted these facilities as a platform for its Verizon California Green Energy Initiative, a massive energy-efficiency project that the company launched in summer 2010. Pacific Data Electric Inc. (PDE) Total Energy Solutions, Santa Fe Springs, Calif., coordinated the initiative. Sustainability objectives included identifying energy-efficiency opportunities and selecting and implementing those that would provide a return on investment (ROI) of two years or less.

PDE’s proposal, backed by 20 years of data center construction experience with design/building alternating current (AC)/direct current (DC) electrical systems and building--management control systems for critical power applications, secured the electrical contract for Verizon’s new statewide venture.

PDE leveraged its experience to integrate new components—such as lighting control systems to existing lighting systems—and place motor control centers, including variable frequency drives (VFDs) for existing chillers, computer room air conditioners and central plants. Additionally, new equipment controls required integration with a proprietary platform, which communicates with the Verizon Network Operations Center. Extensive preplanning and execution would be necessary to keep all electrical and mechanical systems operational while the upgrades were being wrapped up.

Building energy solutions
Over the last two years, PDE’s President Dan Henrich led the charge to retrain key personnel and create a new segment in the company’s business portfolio as integrators of new technologies and systems in energy-efficiency and renewable-energy markets. These new systems include energy efficiency, advanced energy storage, solar, fuel cells, clean burning generators and electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. Supplementing new energy auditor training for executive management and key field personnel, PDE also received certification and training on the operation and business development of advanced lighting controls. Armed with new energy solutions, PDE’s Vice President of Operations Dan Cohee and General Manager Steve Loux introduced its unique services to the company’s core clientele.Further, PDE invested extensively in research and training in emerging technologies and renewable-energy source integration. Along the way, PDE completed an advanced energy storage project for a California municipal utility, which combined solar, bidirectional inverters, and advanced supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) controls to demonstrate the benefits of energy storage and its uses. In 2010, PDE again pushed the envelope in this field by designing and building an energy management system that integrated solar, fuel cell, clean burning generator, energy storage and EV charging for a Southern California entrepreneur.

All of this new training and practical advanced electrical system knowledge was put to immediate use when PDE was awarded the Verizon project.

“This was the first project where we did not add any new power or capacity. We took the existing systems and made them more efficient,” Cohee said.

PDE teamed up with a select group of engineers, mechanical contractors and controls specialists to perform efficiency modifications to systems and integrate the controls to the heritage building systems, including building management systems, lighting controls, fire alarm safety, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

To effectively bid the project without engineering documents, PDE took an integrated value-engineered approach. The project team, which had collective expertise in similar design/build projects, collaborated early and frequently in the bidding process to make the project information clear and available for quick decisions.

“Because we interpreted the specifications and standards, we could submit and install equal components with less cost. We were able to as-built the existing lighting systems and make modifications without engineered drawings and work with manufacturers directly to design and optimize existing systems,” Cohee said.

Timing the light
An energy opportunity that the PDE team identified right away was the incorporation of advanced lighting controls to approximately 500,000 square feet of technical space. Typically, according to Cohee, data centers are sparsely and infrequently occupied as technicians check on a specific piece of equipment for a brief period or merely pass from one end of a building to another. Without lighting controls, a technician could turn on facility lights at the beginning of a work week and leave them on indefinitely, whether someone was in that area or not, Cohee said.

“In examining the RFP, we analyzed the space and its uses to determine the ideal number and placement of sensors needed to optimize energy and enable a productive site,” Cohee said.
The process of equipping a data center, with its multiple aisles and obstructions, could equate to an extremely high density of sensors.

Gaining proper perspective of the operational reductions for energy savings versus the cost of deploying the controls required a deeper examination. For the typical equipment checks, sensors mounted along the main aisle and near the doors would provide an immediate response and would continue illumination for 10 to 15 minutes after the sensor last “saw” the technician. This allowed PDE to deploy a minimum number of sensors for satisfactory operation.

“For those times when an installation of new technical equipment required extended operation of the lights, a digital override timer allowed the technician to dial in a number of hours for this purpose,” Cohee said. “In one location, one digital time switch replaced the deployment of more than 100 occupancy sensors.”

Other manual override upgrades included technologies selected for location-specific needs, such as hot spots or areas concealed by the placement of equipment.

Major motor mods
According to Cohee, most of the modifications to the existing facilities’ energy management systems were designed to integrate VFDs into the controls where none existed previously. This encompassed adding 100 new mechanical control points for VFDs to operate pumps, chillers, cooling towers, fan motor speed, pressure differential switches, temperature probes, sail switches and fire alarm interlocks. Human machine interface (HMI) equipment also was implemented for several chillers.

Following these modifications, PDE collaborated with Verizon’s project engineers to recalibrate existing central plants to optimize performance and write control sequence of steps to ensure fail-safe operation with the introduction of the new devices. Overall, PDE added VSDs to more than 4,200 horsepower of motors, integrated modifications to existing controls on five different manufacturer systems, and retrofitted six 20-year-old motor control centers to accommodate the new technologies.

Implementing new technologies created many challenges. Among them was complying with IEEE 519 harmonic standards required by Verizon. Cohee said that the addition of VSDs and their inherent harmonics to the electrical system required sophisticated mitigation engineering.

“We worked with consultants to measure total harmonic distortion at the point of coupling prior to the upgrades. We specified the applicable technology, which included passive and active harmonic filters, phase-shift transformers and line reactors to ensure that, after the energy-efficiency upgrades, the facility complied with IEEE 519 and did not change the power factor from a lagging to a leading phase shift,” Cohee said.

Integration cuts consumption
The initiative’s electricity metrics are enviable. The project commenced in August 2010 and wrapped up in January 2011 allowing installation windows of six to eight weeks per site with some simultaneous deployment. The average ROI for verizon was fewer than two years, which is directly linked to extensive knowledge of the facilities, self-performing the majority of the work, and value engineering—all key characteristics most effectively deployed through the use of a design/build contractor.

PDE’s Cohee attributes the success of the project to an integrated approach with the design team and Verizon.

“Upon project award, we brought our team in early to closely work with the Verizon project engineers to fully understand the project goals and objectives. Our integrated approach promotes the full engagement of people and systems throughout the design/build process to optimize project results,” Cohee said.

MCCLUNG, owner of Woodland Communications, is a construction writer from Iowa. She can be reached at mcclung@iowatelecom.net.

About the Author

Debbie McClung

Freelance Writer

Debbie McClung, owner of Woodland Communications, is a construction writer from Iowa.

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