For years we have heard that the U.S. is running out of power, but the electrons always seem to make it to our doorsteps. News broadcast after news broadcast report how few generating plants have been built in the last 20 years as the entire country embraced renewable forms of generation. Now we see a resurgent interest in nuclear power as the solution for our future power needs.

Technology has cleaned up many of the old polluting generators, and wind generation has started to really take off. Rhode Island just awarded a New Jersey firm the rights to develop a deep-water wind farm 15 miles off the state’s coast. However, it will be at least five years before the electrons flow because of the permitting process, which is relatively fast as power projects go.

In the meantime, the current installed base of data centers consume ever more power. The often-cited Koomey, AMD report (February 2007) states that data centers in the US consumed 1.2 percent of the domestic power generated in 2005. The report also predicted 14 percent per year growth rate in data center power consumption. The thirst for information and the increased regulatory requirements has spurred a stampede for newer, better, and more powerful technology, and our vendors have been right there to support those business needs.

According to USA– Datacenter Infrastructure Trends & Market Attitudes Report by DatacenterDynamics: Research and Analysis (April 2008), “The average American facility portfolio operates at 5.5 kW/rack with an average maximum power draw of 11.6 kW/rack. Within the USA, Chicago and San Francisco display slightly higher averages.”

These rates might be considered low until one considers that the average peak of 11.6 kW (almost double) allows a lot of room for legacy equipment upgrades. But before a data center can upgrade servers, the new servers must be installed and tested. Any net power reduction only occurs when the legacy servers are de-installed at some future date. Think of it in other terms: add just one 4-kW blade chassis to every other rack and the average rack draw increases by 36.4 percent. Few in the industry have that kind of spare capacity waiting to be tapped.

Over the last year I have seen more clients maxing out their utility service then ever before. More and more small-to-medium-sized data centers (<  20 kW/sq ft) are hitting the upper limits of their utility service and asking what do we do.

The Hard Lesson

One new client came to Gilbane and reported that it was averaging 1500 kW on a 1200-kW electric service with a 15+ percent growth rate for the last five years. The utility was able to upgrade the service to 2,000 kW with a transformer swap out, but the upgrade utilized the full capacity of the service feeder. There are no other feeders in the area with adequate capacity for growth, and the utility stated that they could not support further growth at this site.

The client had to move. But where, how fast, and how?

The where question is getting harder to answer, as sites that can support 5-10 MW in future growth and on a small footprint are getting scarce.

How fast is never fast enough. A readily permitted site still takes 12 months to build from scratch. In this case the client advanced its virtualization program by 2 years just to buy time while supporting sales growth.

In today’s economic climate answering the how question means pushing more and more of the would-be independents into either CoLo facilities or into developer lead design/build/lease-back facilities.

So the ultimate question remains “We are running out of power. Now what?” Are you running out of power? If so what are you doing? Write to us, give us your thoughts.

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