Energy performance in mission critical facilities

Mission critical facilities, such as data centers, are judged carefully on their energy use. Engineers should focus on the codes and standards that dictate energy performance and how building energy performance can be enhanced.


This article has been peer-reviewed.

Learning objectives

  • Understand the various ways to measure energy use in mission critical facilities.
  • Learn about the codes and standards that dictate energy performance.
  • Learn about the codes, standards, and organizations that govern energy performance.

Mission critical facilities support a wide variety of vital operations where facility failure will result in complications that range from serious disruptions to business operations, to circumstances that can jeopardize life safety of the general public. To minimize or eliminate the chance of facility system failure,mission critical facilities have three hallmarks that make them different from other type of commercial buildings:

  1. Figure 1: Using IT equipment that can run in an environment with 26 C supply air (top) enables the use of different cooling technology than IT equipment that runs with 20 C supply air. This allows for a 15% reduction in HVAC system energy use. All graphicThe facility must support operations that run continuously without shutdowns due to equipment failure or maintenance. Seasonal or population changes within the facility have a small impact on the energy use profile; generally, the facility is internally loaded with heavy electrical consumption.
  2. Redundant power and cooling systems are required to support the 24/7/365 operation. Depending on the level of redundancy, there will be additional efficiency losses in the power and cooling systems brought on by running the equipment at small percentages of the capacity.
  3. The technical equipment used in the facility, such as computers; medical and laboratory equipment;and monitoring , communications, and surveillance systems, will have high power requirements that translate into heat gain and energy use.

Figure 1: Using IT equipment that can run in an environment with 26 C supply air (top) enables the use of different cooling technology than IT equipment that runs with 20 C supply air. This allows for a 15% reduction in HVAC system energy use. All graphic

Putting these hallmarks together, mission critical facilities need to run continuously, providing less efficient power and cooling to technical equipment that has very high electrical requirements, all without failure or impacts from standard maintenance procedures. This is why energy use (and ways to reduce it) in mission critical facilities has been, and will continue to be, of great concern. This is true whether the mission critical facility is a laboratory, hospital, data center, police/fire station, or another type of essential operation.

And due to constant advances in the design of technical equipment, the strategies and tactics used for reducing facility energy consumption need to anticipate how future changes will impact building design,codes, standards, and other guidelines. Fortunately, the technical equipment will generally become more energy-efficient over time with improvements in design. This can reduce facility energy use in two ways:the equipment will use less energy, and the energy of the power and cooling systems will also decrease.

Data centers are one segment of the mission critical facility industry that arguably see the highest rate of change in how the facilities are designed, primarily based on the requirements of technical equipment,servers, storage devices, and networking gear. Data centers will have the highest concentration of technical equipment on a sq ft or percentage of total power demand as compared to other mission critical facilities. A change in the specifications or operating conditions of the computers in a data center facility will have a ripple effect that runs through all aspects of the power and cooling systems (see Figure 1).Moreover, IT equipment manufacturers are developing next generation technology that can significantly reduce overall energy use and environmental impact of data centers. This is a good thing, but with it brings new design challenges that need to be addressed in codes, standards, and guidelines.

For data centers and the broader range of commercial buildings, there are myriad programs, guidelines,and codes intended to keep energy use as low as possible. Publications from ASHRAE, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, U.S. Green Building Council, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are good examples of technical but practical resources aiding in data center strategy.

But how did all of these come about? To understand the path forward, it is equally important to know how we got here. Similar to the rapid evolution of power and cooling systems in data centers, many of the documents released by these groups were developed in response by changes and new thinking in the data center design and construction industry.

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