Tackling Energy Waste One Byte at a Time

Today, more than ever, our economy runs on computing power. Even Black Friday is being supplanted by Cyber Monday. While the internet, mobile phones, and other connected devices make our lives easier in so many ways, there is a downside. Processing, storing, and distributing this electronic data uses vast amounts of energy, and this comes at a cost to both our economy and the environment.

Data centers, the engines of our IT-based economy, consume about 70 billion kwh per year, just a little less than 2% of the nation’s total electric consumption. This is expected to grow modestly over the next several years. That growth could be curtailed—and even reversed—with more aggressive energy efficiency measures.

Earlier this month, Better Buildings gathered partners together at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to discuss strategies to improve energy efficiency in data centers. Participants shared best practices, heard from Energy Department experts, and took a tour of one of the most energy efficient data centers in the world that services NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility. A few of the insights shared at the meeting include:

  • Consolidation is key. Large companies and universities are realizing significant energy savings by shutting down smaller, underutilized data centers, consolidating services under one large data center and/or moving services to the cloud.
  • Metering continues to be a challenge. This is especially true for data centers embedded within office or other buildings. Informational resources developed by DOE can help data center managers get a handle on this, but staff time is needed to install the metering equipment and monitor its outputs.
  • Renewable energy is becoming a more attractive option. Costs of key renewable technologies, such as solar photovoltaics have come down. Meanwhile, new financing mechanisms, such as virtual power purchasing agreements, allow facilities to tap into renewable energy markets, even if they lack the roof space or nearby natural resources to take advantage of renewables on site.
  • IT equipment is becoming more efficient. There is a growing set of options of ENERGY STAR rated servers, storage, uninterruptible power supplies, and switches and routers. This is significant as IT equipment typically makes up more than half of a data center’s power load.

You can view presentations given at the workshop here.

DOE is working with partners in the private and public sectors to reduce energy consumption in data centers through the Better Buildings Challenge and a related Better Buildings Data Center Accelerator. Partners in these initiatives set goals to improve energy efficiency by 20-25% across all, or some, of their data centers. Several partners, including eBay and Intuit, have already met their targets. They and others are sharing their energy saving solutions with the public so that other data center owners and operators can follow their lead.

The data center sector is dynamic, marked by rapid technological change and rigorous demands to maintain uptime. Leaders in this sector are showing that energy savings are compatible with operational reliability and good for the bottom line. DOE looks forward to reconvening its data center partners at the 2017 Better Buildings Summit, May 15-17 in Washington, DC, to explore emerging issues such as waste heat recovery, water efficiency, and energy efficiency in small data centers.