On Tuesday, June 18th I delivered a keynote address to the New York Chapter of the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE). In summation, I suggested to these AEE members that they had a lot of experience that would be valuable to data center operators. Some of them, I believe, thought I was referring to their technical skills. And while it is true that energy engineers have a great deal of experience with power and cooling systems, and even free cooling is looked at as proven, it is also true that the data center industry does not lack for technical expertise.

What, then, could data center operators learn from AEE members? I told the group that the data center segment would soon be operating under more scrutiny, and I cited the recently released Energy Star for Data Centers standard as a reason.

Energy Star, after all, is not strictly speaking about technical achievement. It is in many ways a public recognition that a building, system, or product is performing above a minimum standard. In the case of data centers, the standard was set as the normalized result of a data gathering effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Energy Star label brings no financial reward, although some RFPs include Energy Star requirements in some product categories. Many data centers may exceed the PUE requirement for attaining Energy Star, yet not earn the label because facility owners choose to avoid calling attention, even positive attention, to their facilities.

The USGBC’s LEED standard and the Uptime Institute’s Tier standards can work the same way because the standards are public and the reward is often intangible public recognition, which data center operators may value less than other facility owners.

Nonetheless, despite the publicity-averse nature of data centers, the existence of the Energy Star label will tend to spotlight the energy use of data centers-all data centers, provide a way for government to rank facilities, and for the public at large to understand them.

Facility engineers have worked under this glare for a long time and seen formerly geeky activities transformed into annual report entries. Facility engineers celebrate the publicity as a success for what they do.

In these regards, data center owners and operators can learn from their colleagues in other spaces and truly embrace energy efficiency and sustainability or they can shrink from the responsibility.

The path to energy efficiency is hard, facility engineers will say. It is lined with misaligned incentives, turf wars, and technology failures. Data center owners should know that they are not the first to fight the barriers to energy efficiency. Experience says that champions will emerge to show the way, and friends will help too.

Energy Star is not the only harbinger of the raised profile that data centers will have. Not long ago, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) recently announced the availability of $155 million to encourage energy efficiency and sustainability in the state’s data centers. NYSERDA joins California’s PG&E and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab as sponsors encouraging data center owners to reduce energy use. NYSERDA is aggressively looking for places to invest this money, having appeared at both DataCenter Dynamics and the Uptime Institute this year to describe the program.

Facilities managers will recognize NYSERDA, PG&E, and LBNL as past leaders in energy efficiency in buildings, and thus unsurprising as current leaders in the data center industry.

I can say that the new higher profile of data centers will continue to attract funding from these organizations, and new organizations will develop as a result of the funding, to help increase data center energy efficiency.

Already, for example, The Green Data Center Alliance (GDCA) announced it had been awarded a $500,000 NYSERDA contract that will help provide a guide for Data Centers to significantly lower energy consumption.

Derek Schwartz, executive director and founder of the GDCA, said “To achieve significant and long-lasting energy conservation, the GDCA believes it is necessary to view the data center from five (5) distinct disciplines: Engineering & Facilities, Information Technology, Finance, Governance, and Process,” said.  “Our membership strongly believes that decisions in each category can have a tremendous impact on overall energy consumption. The most effective strategy for increased data center productivity must consider encompass all areas.”

The spotlight is now turning to the data center world. Remember the public, and the world, will be watching and hoping we succeed on the big stage.