On the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, the World Wide Web existed only in research labs, “texting” was something you wrote in a notebook and the closest thing to a data center was the public library. On that day, millions of people gathered at events around the country to learn, share and work toward innovative solutions to protect our natural resources. In advance of Earth Day, Jeff Schnitzer, general manager, GE’s Critical Power business (NYSE: GE), discussed recent trends in data center energy efficiency.
"In 1970, we worried about landfills and paper waste, some 44,310,000 tons of it annually. Today, those things that were on paper now are in digital format, with an estimated 639,800 gigabytes of that digital information passing through data centers every minute. Forty-four years later, Earth Day 2014 reminds us to examine the impact data centers have on our natural resources and sustainability and the strides being made by businesses and governments to meet new data center energy efficiency levels," said Schnitzer.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, data centers account for up to 2.5 percent of the total electricity generated in the United States. Schnitzer added, "There are a number of technology innovations that contribute to the overall energy efficiency of data centers." Some examples include:
Capturing Free Cooling: About 30 percent of all data center energy is used to cool servers and information technology equipment with power-hungry air conditioning chiller units, which are used at both the server rack and printed circuit board levels. Many companies today are investing in "free cooling" technology to draw in exterior ambient temperatures to keep data center systems cool and to reduce energy. In 2013, Facebook unveiled a new data center in Sweden that uses free cooling technology that harnesses the average exterior temperature of 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
A Few Percent Matters: Raising energy efficiency levels of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems in data centers from 90 to 98 percent can save the United States $3 billion annually in energy costs. CoreSpace, a GE customer in Dallas, is saving an estimated $25,000 a year with its eBoost*-equipped, multi-mode UPS systems operating at 99 percent efficiency.
Overnight Ice: To lower the temperature at its 538,000 square foot data center in Phoenix, i/o Data Centers engineered a set of cooling tanks filled with a mix of ice balls and glycol that are chilled during the night when electricity is less expensive and used to cool data center equipment during the day.
Modular Power: With data center capacity expected to expand by 33 percent over each of the next five years, squeezing more capacity and efficiency from existing data facilities is vital to sustain growth. Containerized, or modular, data center and power protection units-such as GE's PowerMod* technology-connected to existing facilities lets companies scale the capacity and energy use they need. These outside units use ambient air to reduce excess heating and energy consumption.
Mining Energy: To save energy costs, Iron Mountain built its data center in a former limestone mine in Pennsylvania. It keeps the data operation cool by letting the subterranean walls absorb as much 1.5 British thermal units of energy per square foot4.
Powering the World's Cell Towers: Powering the world's 640,000 off-grid cell towers with diesel generators burns more than 11 billion liters of diesel a year. Hybridizing a cell tower using GE's innovative sodium nickel chloride Durathon* batteries cuts fuel consumption at sites by up to 50 percent and can enable more towers worldwide to be powered by renewable sources such as solar. Cutting fuel consumption by up to 50 percent delivers significant cost savings for the industry and reduces greenhouse gas emissions from each off-grid cell tower.
"As we create, share and use more and more data in our business and personal lives, data center energy efficiency will remain one of the great challenges facing the industry," continued Schnitzer. "The innovations we're deploying today not only provide real and immediate benefits, they are leading the way to new solutions for tomorrow."