Energy Efficiency Opportunities for Data Centers

August 20, 2014 by

Energy Efficiency for Data CentersWhen you think about data centers, you think technology and leading edge. So you might be surprised to learn that except for big names like Google and Facebook, typical data centers have yet to embrace energy efficiency practices.

Data centers provide a substantial energy drain — Between 2005 and 2010, electricity used by data centers worldwide increased by 56%, accounting for between 1.1% and 1.5% of total electricity use. In the U.S., the increase was about 36%, accounting for between 1.7% to 2.2% (Growth in Data Center Electricity Use 2005 to 2010). And, data centers are predicted to consume 15% of the world’s energy by 2020 (EPA Report 2007).

According to a recent FCW article, although data center leaders have heeded the efficiency message, other facilities have yet to implement techniques on a widespread basis.

“A lot of federal and private industry facilities have been slow to adopt the changes that some of the big players have done,” said William Tschudi, leader of the High Tech and Industrial Systems Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Tschudi’s group was recently designated the Energy Department’s Center of Expertise for energy efficiency in data centers. Part of the center’s mission is to provide tools, best practices and technologies to help federal agencies improve their energy efficiency.

The good news is, federal regulations are starting to target the issue of data center power drain. In March, the House passed the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act, which calls for federal agencies to increase the energy efficiency of the data centers they operate. And, the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (passed in February) tasks federal CIOs with creating data center optimization plans that take energy use into account.

The Energy Department has also issued a Better Building Challenge to promote energy efficiency in commercial buildings and a Better Plants Challenge for the industrial sector. The DOE is working to launch a similar data center challenge program as well.

Industry standards are also adjusting to accommodate energy efficiency opportunities. ASHRAE, a global organization credited with establishing de facto thermal standards for data centers has raised the climate threshold. Although 68 degrees Fahrenheit was once the norm, they now recommend 80.6 degrees for enterprise servers and 89.6 for storage. Humidity recommendations now range from 60% to 80%.

Innovations for Data Center Efficiency

This shift in legislation and industry guidelines have opened up opportunities for new and exciting energy efficient methods for data centers.

Cooling is a main cause of a data center’s energy consumption. Traditionally, air conditioning systems have worked in conjunction with water-based chillers to beat the heat in computer rooms. But recent innovations have given water a more direct role in replacing or supplementing air conditioning.

Evaporative or Free Cooling involves towers that use outdoor air to cool water that circulates back into the data center to remove the heat from computing equipment. Although water is effective for energy efficient cooling, it can be a scare resource. So there are also cooling systems being created using wastewater and reclaimed water as well.

Immersion Cooling is another innovation for water challenged areas of the country. This is where processors are submerged in tanks filled with non-conducive fluid. It doesn’t need a special environment such as a raised floor and doesn’t generate the noise associated with fan-based air cooling.

Another big energy drain is networking – which takes up 10% to 20% of a data center’s energy consumption. Grants are being awarded to conduct energy research in large data center communication networks. This includes developing a new protocol that can be built into a hardware device that would adjust itself to the communications distance to minimize energy use.

Simple Steps to Take Today

Luckily, data centers don’t have to wait for these innovations, or invest a lot of money or resources to save energy and reduce downtime. There are several no- and low-cost measures that can be implemented now that have dramatic energy saving potential including:

  • Raising the computer room temperature from 68 or 69 degrees to 72 or 73 degrees can make a huge difference in energy costs
  • Organizing the network of cables under a raised floor promotes better air flow and keeps the room cooler
  • Consolidating many servers to one can reduce energy use by up to 20%
  • Using blanking panels on unused racks prevents hot air from being sucked back into the rack and keeps room temperature lower
  • Segregating hot and cold air improves efficiency and reduces downtime because hot air can be confined so it won’t create issues for equipment and cold air can be circulated with less air pressure
  • Eliminate power conversion using DC instead of AC to reduce energy intake and improve reliability

Click here to read the complete FCW article. And for more on the cost of data center inefficiency and tips for reducing downtime and saving energy, check out ABM’s Did You Know? Data Centers Infographic.

Data Center Infographic


Creative Financing Options Help Solar Industry Continue to Grow

August 14, 2014 by

According to a recent FacilitiesNet article, solar is not just a public relations move for companies anymore. The industry is growing by leaps and bounds and continuing to gain traction in many states.

Whitehouse Solar Panels

Statistics from the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) support this, showing solar represented 29% of all new energy generation installations in 2013, and Q1 2014 was the largest quarter ever for concentrating solar power. Even the White House is now — finally — partially powered by solar!

Part of its increasing momentum is that solar companies are becoming faster and more efficient at installations, which is lowering the overall costs. This, coupled with some creative financing programs, are making solar much more affordable and viable for facility managers.

Among the most popular financing options are Solar Roof Lease Agreements, Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), and Energy Performance Contracts. These novel approaches have facility managers taking a whole new look at solar.

Lease Agreements and PPAs both allow a facility manager to lease out their roof space to solar vendors who install, manage, and maintain a solar system. The only difference between the two is that with a PPA, the solar vendor can sell the electricity back to the facility manager at a fixed rate, often at a reduced cost than what they are currently paying, protecting the facility from the volatility of rising energy costs over the life of the agreement. The advantage of these agreements is that the facility manager receives a lease payment, has lower energy costs, and does not have the burden of bankrolling the project.

Performance Contracts allow facility managers to implement a solar system without the need for any upfront capital. The project is funded entirely from the guaranteed energy savings provided by the solar installation. Facility managers can start saving from Day 1, and other energy efficiency improvements can be made at the same time as well.

“There are soft benefits [to solar], of course, but at the end of the day, this saves money,” said Tom Kimbis, vice president of executive affairs for SEIA.

Read the complete article for more information.

Colquitt County Schools to Reduce Energy and Operating Costs by $19M

August 4, 2014 by

Colquitt County SchoolsShowing the community and fellow districts they are among one of the most forward-thinking school systems in the country, Colquitt County Schools in Georgia has decided to invest in improving the infrastructure of their facilities to reduce energy use, save  on operating costs, and positively impact their students’ learning environment.

Partnering with ABM and leveraging their Bundled Energy Solutions Program, Colquitt County will receive energy efficient upgrades and facility enhancements to all 14 schools within the county. The project is estimated to save $19M in energy and operating costs over a 15-year period, and the results are guaranteed.

“We are proud to partner with ABM to not only make a difference in our district, but also our community as well,” said Dr. Samuel DePaul, Superintendent for Colquitt County Schools. “The project helps to stabilize our budgeting efforts while supporting the district’s goal of providing a safe and quality learning environment.”

Retrofits include replacing more than 50%  of the school district’s HVAC equipment and installing automation controls; upgrading to energy efficient lighting; improving building envelopes; and implementing power management, transformer upgrades, refrigeration optimization, and water utilization management.

Overall the project will generate more than $100,000 a year in general fund relief without any upfront costs and supply critical mechanical upgrades to the schools within the district.

Read the full press release for more information on this energy solution.

LEED Changes Game with New Dynamic Plaque

July 29, 2014 by

LEED Dynamic PlaqueWhen the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) introduced its newest system at Greenbuild 2013, the industry took notice. And according to a recent article, the new LEED Dynamic Plaque has the potential to affect green building for years to come.

Why is it such a game changer? Because it introduces an ongoing performance element to the traditionally static LEED scheme, promotes a competitive environment that drives innovation and change, and creates awareness of the direct affect of actions on a building’s sustainability performance level.

As you know, LEED is the gold standard rating system for sustainable building in the U.S. The new LEED Dynamic Plaque is not a new accreditation but an add-on to existing LEED certifications. It is about comparing post-occupancy building performance and is designed to help property owners monitor, benchmark, and update their LEED scores in five areas: energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste diversion, transportation impact, and occupant experience.

While a building’s official LEED score is recorded just once a year based on a recertification schedule, the new Dynamic Plaque updates as frequently as it receives new information. For example, if a building has a LEED score of 72 but the owner thinks it could be higher, they might send out transportation and occupant experience surveys and perform a waste audit to look for potential improvements. After improvements are made, they can provide the platform with new data and the LEED score will be recalculated instantly.

The LEED Dynamic Plaque makes the invisible actionable by providing a simple building performance context for operational data. The plaque itself is a freestanding and digital scoreboard that is displayed on an existing project’s site, and provides a method for ongoing performance feedback in the form of an up-to-date LEED performance score. Visitors can see performance in real time, occupants can provide feedback on their experience, and building owners and managers can view trends and gather data for informed decision-making.

Sustainability is key to building investors today. The new LEED Dynamic Plaque can minimize investor risk and improve their returns, help property managers adopt green improvements faster, engage building occupants in the LEED process, and motivate other players to participate.

For more information, read the complete article or visit the USGBC site.




DOE Invests $14M in Building Efficiency Projects

July 17, 2014 by

The U.S. Energy Department is set to fund up to $14 million to support energy-efficient solutions for buildings and homes. These projects will help building managers and homeowners reduce energy demand, save money, and accelerate the deployment of clean energy technologies.

Seven incubator projects will be funded with nearly $6 million to improve heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), water heating, sensors and controls, and building energy modeling. Additionally, eight frontier projects will receive $8 million to address energy efficiency in advanced clothes dryers, windows, and building thermal insulation. Frontier projects seek to improve the efficiency of existing technologies by incorporating new, innovative materials or components.DOE Investment

“Investments in advanced energy-efficient technologies will help families and businesses reduce energy costs, while reducing carbon emissions,” said Kathleen Hogan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency. “These innovative approaches will improve smart-building technologies, including lighting, lighting controls, highly insulated walls and windows, as well as increase efficiency measures that complement a building’s entire energy management system.”

For the full list of projects selected for funding, read the complete announcement.