The nation is kicking off the New Year with a bit more promise as the fiscal cliff has been at least in part and temporarily avoided with an eleventh hour drive by our elected officials over the break. While the debate on national spending and tax rates will continue in the near future, another priority —energy efficiency— continues to be an important national goal, and one that will rise to the top of the president’s agenda for 2013. Already, the president has stated his administration’s goal is to reduce the energy impact of the U.S. economy to 50% of the 2010 levels by 2035.


How data centers should assess their current energy efficiency

U.S. Department of Energy’s Data Center Practitioner (DCEP) Program

The EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager

Sustainability Service Providers and Energy Service Companies 

Energy Assessment Services

The energy dilemma presents a “cliff” of a different kind. The significant contributions to GDP through IT-enabled energy-productivity across every industry sector are well understood. However, the challenge remains for meeting the global energy demand, which is expected to double by 2050, while reducing GHG emissions in half by that same date. To meet such an ambitious goal, energy efficiency improvements will have to be driven by the technology sector. With the cadence of increased regulations impacting the IT industry building globally, there is an opportunity for IT to take a pivotal leadership role in helping all vertical industries become more energy efficient and do so collaboratively with governments.

The organizations that will emerge as leaders of this effort will recognize the coming sea change and will take a proactive, rather than reactive, role in working with government to ensure any regulatory activities are focused on how energy-effective technologies and practices can increase productivity and contribute to cost savings, in addition to adding to environmental sustainability. These points of intersection will be attractive not only to regulators, but also to companies that are implementing long-term sustainability initiatives that dramatically improve productivity while reducing energy usage and operational costs.

Energy efficiency technology is already being proven to increase productivity in every vertical industry in the country. One of the real goals of industry collaborating with government is to help accelerate that productivity. Organizations and governments working together to achieve energy efficiency goals can result in many positive different outcomes and industry can shape and inform pending regulatory activity. The most effective regulatory frameworks will be those built by the collective work done between industry, federal, and state regulators.

On a national level, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and even the National Security Agency (NSA) all have significant programs underway with regards to energy efficiency, and all of these entities are also striving to increase productivity and greater sustainability through industry collaboration. For example, the DOE is collaborating with industry not only in traditional areas like research and technology, but also through practical deployments such as the Data Center Energy Practitioner program and through investing in public and private R&D to spur energy innovation. It has worked with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to drive the ISO 50001 standard, which details the requirements for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and improving an energy management system.

One of the key questions industry will be asking itself is how it can further increase the value of Energy Star, the program created by the EPA in 1992. Originally conceived as a certification for consumer products, in recent years the Energy Star program has further extended to enterprise IT products and data centers through their commercial buildings program. One of the ways the industry is working with the EPA is in recognizing the building as a holistic system and assess its efficiency through that lens. In 2010, the EPA also announced data center qualification for Energy Star Certification based on power usage effectiveness (PUE), a Green Grid-developed metric and method to measure overhead energy. The Energy Star for Data Centers certification is also something that industry worked with the EPA on to help make a success.

Beyond the DOE and the EPA, Todd Parks, the federal chief technology officer, is actively working with the IT industry on the Green Button Connect program. Federal CIO Steven van Rockle is aggressively pushing the federal government’s objective of data center consolidation and a cloud-first policy, recognizing this change will dramatically increase the federal government’s IT productivity per unit of energy consumed. In addition, he’s also significantly reducing his cost of operations and contributing to greater environmental sustainability through increased utilization of IT assets.

The effort to curb energy consumption is also taking place at the state level. Currently, more than 30 states are actively looking to improve their own energy regulations, recognizing the need to increase productivity and energy efficiency.

On the global front, data centers in the European Union (EU) are already now required to adhere to regulations on regular energy use reporting through the EU’s Energy Efficiency Plan 2011. Similar regulations may also be coming to the U.S.

Depending on your state, your data center may already be (or soon will be) required by law to provide energy consumption or use data to the government. Increased regulatory pressures stem in part from the energy dilemma — increasing demand joined with uncertain future supplies of clean, safe, and reliable energy in the U.S.

As a consequence, federal, local, and state governments are looking for ways to not only manage energy supply and demand, but also to increase efficiency of existing and new systems. As the backbone of every industry from manufacturing to health care, energy is an essential and strategic resource. As a result, regulators — many of which work in conjunction with industry — are focusing on energy reporting, energy capping, energy monitoring, and capture of CO2 and related emissions.

This is not to say that navigating regulations is an easy feat for business. To put this into perspective, let’s discuss a complex scenario in which a business is consuming 5 MW of electricity a year while maintaining energy efficient best practices, but is under a regulatory requirement to report its energy consumption and runs a risk of increases in energy consumption being penalized through a tax or a fine. Let’s also say that business is thriving, and as a result the business’ consumption grows from 5 MW up to 5.5 MW. How much has the business contributed to national GDP, or to job growth in its local community as a result of this business growth? What if your business growth, along with its economic contributions to the community and nation, resulted in increased consumption, even though your energy use remained as efficient as possible? Perhaps even “best-in-class” type efficiencies. In short, under such a framework, the business itself would be penalized for it increased productivity and success, despite maintaining efficient strategies and growing jobs.

So how can businesses increase output and productivity per unit consumed encouraging growth, while also keeping their carbon emissions in check to comply with current and potential new government regulations at the state and federal level?

The first step is self-awareness. Data centers should assess their current energy efficiency and make adjustments accordingly to increase efficiencies, without sacrificing business growth. Below are just a few examples of how to do so:

• U.S. Department of Energy’s Data Center Practitioner (DCEP) Program: A collaborative effort developed with industry, the DCEP Program trains and certifies data center energy practitioners to perform energy assessments in data centers. The program is supported by the Data Center Profiler (DC Pro) Software Tool Suite, which can be used by companies to identify and evaluate how energy is being used in their data centers and identify areas to save energy and money. The suite features a profiling tool and a set of system assessment tools to perform energy assessments on specific sections and functions within the data center

• The EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager: As part of the Energy Star building program, data centers can access and use the EPA’s Portfolio Manager, an interactive energy management tool allowing you to track and assess energy and water consumption across your entire portfolio of buildings in a secure online platform. Portfolio Manager can help data center owners and managers set investment priorities, identify under-performing buildings, verify efficiency improvements, and receive EPA recognition for superior energy performance.

 •Sustainability Service Providers and Energy Service Companies (ESCOs): Depending on availability and consumer demand, the most cost-effective energy supply option can change at any minute, especially when it comes to renewable energy sources. Implementing a thorough sustainability plan will not only allow data centers to operate more efficiently, but also allow companies to successfully meet any set internal or external sustainability goals while taking into consideration actual energy supply. Such providers can assist data centers with a wide range of sustainability solutions, including strategic planning, technology acquisition/procurement, implementation and carbon reporting and monitoring. Similarly, energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs) are gaining momentum with governments, educational institutions, and more. ESPCs guarantee that energy savings will pay or exceed costs of efficiency improvements and are serviced by ESCOs that help identify the savings opportunities, engineer and manage projects, and pay the difference between savings promised and savings realized. By partnering with sustainability service providers and ESCOs, and taking a more calculated, strategic approach to energy sourcing, procurement and reporting, data centers can reduce their exposure to price volatility and secure energy that meets both budgets and business objectives.

• Energy Assessment Services: Another way to maintain awareness of energy usage in a data center is to use an energy assessment service to identify the areas within your power, cooling, and physical infrastructure that are consuming the most energy, and what operational efficiencies can be implemented to make the most of each watt going in. Using this information, data center managers and operators can compare the performance of their facility with established industry practices such as the Green Grid’s Data Center Maturity Model. Since its launch, the Data Center Maturity Model has allowed data centers to quantify the performance of their data center across several conditions, even comparing data center performance online with several sized data centers around the world. Assessment services focus on pinpointing improvements that will help the data center operator drive down energy costs, while ensuring maximum availability. Energy Assessment Services help data centers meet energy usage goals, business needs, and financial targets

Since the 2007 EPA report to Congress, which quantified data center energy consumption as 6% of the national total at the time, there have been dramatic improvements in how energy efficient IT is applied. Data center consolidations and virtualization are now applied widely by the industry. A newer development, data center infrastructure management (DCIM), which incorporates management of building systems into the efficiency mix for data centers, also helps achieve holistic energy efficiency. Today, the government and industry are working together to update the 2007 report in quantifying progress of the industry in becoming more efficient.

Other ways industry is currently working with the federal government: working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to provide guidance to federal agencies on best practices to increase energy productivity through IT applications as well as how as agreements and contracts are executed. Today’s talks center around creating a roadmap together to employ, in practice, some recent energy innovations in the industry including increased utilization, greater modularity, scalability, and fully integrating energy management systems, as well as where and how it is most effective to use airside and waterside economization.

An outstanding question remaining is: how can we work with the federal government to empower data center owners and operators to procure clean or renewable energy and add it into in their energy mix? Today, those decisions on energy procurement largely rest on state regulators, and in most cases those regulations have been on the books for nearly 100 years. A major part of the equation will be choice in procurement — not only for the large data center, but for the “mom and pop” or small format data center and wiring closets that makes up the majority of data centers in the country. Both federal and state governments realize that creating an efficient data center that runs on dirty energy gets neither the business nor the consumer ahead in the game.

In sum, only when the IT industry can work together with federal, state and local governments to form the policies and regulations around energy efficiency will there be a sustainable path to solving the energy dilemma for the next fifty years.