Energy efficiency trends, changes in data centers
Several trends are pushing the energy efficiency and sustainability in data centers in different directions
- Bill Kosik, PE, CEM, BEMP, Senior Energy Engineer, DNV, Oak Brook, Illinois
- Matt Koukl, DCEP, Principal, Market Leader Mission Critical, Affiliated Engineers Inc., Madison, Wisconsin
- Kenneth Kutsmeda, PE, LEED AP, Global Technology Leader – Mission Critical, Jacobs, Philadelphia
- Ben Olejniczak, PE, Senior Project Mechanical Engineer, Environmental Systems Design Inc., Chicago
- Brian Rener, PE, LEED AP, Mission Critical Leader, Smith Group, Chicago
- Jonathan Sajdak, PE, Senior Associate/Fire Protection Engineer, Page, Houston
Last year, experts indicated sustainability and efficiency would top the list of data center trends. Do you believe that prediction is true and why do you think that?
Brian Rener: Sustainability goals depend on the data center client and use. Co-location facilities incorporate numerous sustainability features but face challenges balancing this goal with their reliability and first cost requirements. Internet/social media providers can be more willing to invest in long-term goals for sustainability over first costs. Research data center users place a high value on sustainability and may be willing to explore and important new sustainable technologies, but may face funding issues.
Bill Kosik: There are two issues that data center owners need to figure out related to sustainability. The first is continued pressure to reduce carbon emissions and purchasing power that can be tracked back to renewable generation sources. Looking across the real estate portfolio of a large corporation, it is easy to find the data centers. They are the ones that are consuming at least 10 times more electricity that an equal-sized office building). It is a pretty quick calculation — if the data center increases energy efficiency by a small about, that is equal to a large reduction for the corporate office building. Reducing electricity consumption will result in carbon emission reduction. (There are many variables in this so this analysis must be done on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration location, current fuel mix, ability to modify data center systems, etc.).
The second point is pressure for the data center owner to provide evidence of where the electricity is actually coming from. It is very common for corporations to buy renewable energy certificates and use these RECs as evidence of offsetting carbon. While RECs are very important in certain situations, they do not, in themselves, offset carbon emissions. Large companies are moving to other means to demonstrate they are decarbonizing.
Ben Olejniczak: Yes. Many of the clients we work with seem to have heightened attention to sustainability and efficiency. We have moved into an era where it has become an expectation for all companies, not just companies in the data center space, to take hold of the idea that we must foster our planet by employing measures to limit our impact on the environment. Naturally, energy and water use impacts are on the forefront of everyone’s mind and are most scrutinized. The bright side of this challenge is that equipment manufacturers are responding and following suit. Refrigerant use is a great example. Government regulations have started to outlaw refrigerants with high global warming potential and vendors have responded by redesigning their equipment with more environmentally friendly alternatives. There are many different technologies out on the market that can support our industry now in an endeavor to become more efficient with our water and power consumption.
Matt Koukl: Yes. AEI experiences this discussion in all our conversations with owners and peers in the industry. The firm acknowledges that resources are limited and we need to be stewards of the environment in our communities and globally in far reaching locations. Demand for digital content and associated computing and storage drives the demand and need for data centers and the cooling and power infrastructure. Digital infrastructure operates 24/7 and demands the power and cooling infrastructure to be available to support the same amount of uptime. AEI understands the importance of remaining socially responsible to reduce digital footprints, ultimately, reducing demand.
Kenneth Kutsmeda: Sustainable, carbon-free backup energy solutions are trending in data centers. Many global technology companies are leading the way toward climate action and setting aggressive net zero carbon targets. Data center back up power is typically provided by diesel generators because they are highly reliable and cost effective. But the diesel generator exhausts carbon dioxide. To meet their climate goals and eliminate carbon, data centers are looking toward alternative sustainable backup energy solutions such as hydrogen fuel cells and lithium-ion battery solutions. The overall goal is becoming net zero. Over time, the data center is continuously driving to be more efficient, use less energy and less fuel, while at the same time purchasing and using more green carbon-free energy. Net zero energy is reached when all the energy being used is carbon-free
What level of performance are you being asked to achieve, such as Uptime Institute tier guidelines, WELL Building Standards, U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification, net zero energy or other guidelines?
Ben Olejniczak: I’m seeing trends away from acquiring these certifications. From all that are listed, LEED certification seems to be the most desired, albeit less so than in years past. Many clients are baking in many of the certification requirements into their design standard, making it easier to acquire the certification if/when the time comes around. Mechanically, the clients we are working with are desiring power usage effectiveness below 1.1 and water usage effectiveness down as low as 0.025, depending on the region. Push the envelope to cool higher capacities with less power and less water. Easy, right?!
What types of sustainable features or concerns might you encounter for these buildings that you wouldn’t on other projects?
Brian Rener: Data centers require continuous cooling and large facilities use significant amounts of water to provide cooling throughout the year. The combination of large size and continual demand drive up water consumption compared to other building types. Instead of only cooling towers, the combination of cooling towers and thermosyphons can significantly reduce water consumption. In cooler months, the thermosyphons provide for primary cooling but with no water usage.
What types of renewable or alternative energy systems have you recently specified to provide power?
Brian Rener: Many clients wish to use solar systems. The challenge is that the power demands of a data center are substantial compared to other facilities, making solar a tiny percent in the reduction of energy use.
How has the demand for heat recovery technology influenced the design for these kinds of projects?
Brian Rener: Demand for waste heat recovery influences the placement of these facilities. Instead of locating remotely, the data center is placed adjacent to an office or campus infrastructure. Through the use of heat recovery chillers, the data center waste heat becomes beneficial heating to others with a reduced carbon footprint compared to traditional sources of heat.