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Europe’s data centres need more brains than brawn to tackle energy efficiency
Sat, 7th Jul 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

The level of energy consumed by the world's data centers is getting more and more attention. However, it may well be possible to quickly and efficiently cut energy bills without the need for massive investments, explains Honeywell Building Solutions' Daniela Pandrea.

We live in an increasingly data-dependent world, a trend that is set to escalate as new uses and applications for ‘big data' continue to emerge. Developments such as Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT) are already starting to reshape how we work and live and consequently demand for data center services is booming. However, this growth has a down side – it could turn the big data center sector into a big-time energy consumer.

Climate Change News reported that US researchers found data centers alone currently consume around three percent of the global electricity supply, which accounts for about two percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. To put that into perspective, that is roughly the same carbon footprint as the airline industry.

Moreover, a recent report from Vertiv suggests the amount of energy consumed by the world's data centers will triple during the next decade. The sector has come under scrutiny as its energy consumption curve flies in the face of the prevailing environmental objectives embodied in the United Nation's sustainable development goals, the Paris Climate Agreement and the EU Data Center Code of Conduct. Clearly, there is a need to take a hard look at data center energy consumption in order to find ways to significantly reduce it.

Data Center owners and their facility managers are therefore left with a complex puzzle – how to cater for growing demand of their services while at the same time lowering energy usage. Any approach that starts to solve this problem has the additional benefit of reducing overheads, which could protect bottom line performance in a market that is increasingly cost driven. The good news is that much of what is needed to curb energy use is either already in hand or can be implemented without major upheaval or substantial investment. However, careful planning is required to ensure the best results.

But first, an energy audit

The fundamental rules for saving energy are very simple: spend time and effort where the returns are the greatest, which calls for the implementation of a structured energy management audit – find out what and where is consuming power.

The outcomes from this can be used to create a plethora of useful resources including, but not limited to:

  • Company energy policies;
  • Nominated person responsible for energy management;
  • Methods for monitoring and targeting short and long-term performance;
  • An identified, costed and approved list of energy-saving projects;
  • Reporting systems to show the status of projects; and
  • An auditing system to drive actions and improvement.

A good first step is to check the operating temperature of computer room air conditioning units. Cautious facility managers often set the temperature in the low 20 degrees Celsius, which may appear to be no-nonsense common sense. However, much equipment – especially newer kit – can safely run at high temperatures so it is worth rechecking the original equipment manufacturer recommendations as even a slight increase in ambient temperature reduces overall cooling costs. Air conditioning should also be set as appropriate, depending on what areas are to be cooled, rather than as a site-wide constant. It is worth remembering that a careful use of duct settings can help cool hotspots without incurring additional expenditure.

Energy sensation through integration

The building plays a significant role in energy management – its importance should not be underplayed. It is therefore advisable to take some simple structural steps that can help reduce energy consumption. For example, improvements to ventilation systems, air handling, chillers and windows as well as an upgrade to lighting systems and simple steps, such as switching to energy-saving bulbs, really do add up. However, the biggest likely improvements will come from an upgrade to a site's management control systems. By being better able to monitor and control building services, facilities managers can leverage the latest advances in lighting and heating controls.

Importantly, a fully-featured data center installation will provide a single point of control, delivering easy-to-understand information, communication and data processing for more reliable building automation and management. And with enhanced monitoring capabilities, adjusting security, fire and safety systems also become easily examined, enabling greater control of a facility and the ability to respond quickly to events and fully preserve data integrity. Even more, the newly built, modern data centers use renewable energy sources, often self-produced.

Upgrading to this level of sophistication may seem complex but in all likelihood many of the core elements, such as heat sensors, will already be in place. In these instances, it is often possible to retrofit the additional features and functions to create a seamless management control system without busting the bank. It is therefore advisable to create an audit of existing equipment, which will make implementing upgrades to be both quicker and easier.

Time to get smart – really smart

In all probability, the monitoring systems in older data centers will be dated – they will provide building information, such as energy consumption data, to facility managers to make decisions. This is both slow and inefficient. However, the current generation of smart systems, which can be easily retrofitted, can be programmed to quickly and proactively take control of environmental decisions, which can help reduce energy bills while enhancing site operations. Remote access is also an option, which can be especially helpful for facility managers who are responsible for multiple sites or out-of-hours working.

Energy efficiency is not all about hardware and systems, though; it's also about empowering employees. Training staff and encouraging them to switch off unnecessary equipment, processes and services can lead to energy reductions. Also look at maintenance schedules – properly maintained equipment, such as chillers and pumps, generally uses less power when it is properly functioning.

Get ready for growth

The data center industry will continue to grow but how it responds to its increasing carbon footprint is something is up in the air, although key decisions will be needed to be made very soon. In order to streamline the decision-making process, data center facility managers can choose a technology partner with a proven record of helping businesses reduce energy consumption. Just as important, that team must possess the technology and know-how to seamlessly integrate into the existing infrastructure.

New centres, and those still under construction, will be designed to be more energy efficient than older sites. However, that is no reason for complacency – small changes make a big difference and every penny of power saved today is an extra penny on the bottom line tomorrow. The return on investment alone should motivate data centers around the world to get smart with their energy consumption.

Environmental protection and compliance with green energy targets aren't enemies to productivity, they can be used to incentivise efficiencies and profits. And in a highly competitive market that has to be a good thing.