For the past decade, the data center industry has received a lot of attention relating to power consumption and inefficiencies, energy sources, and carbon footprint. After all, it’s well-known that data centers are one of the largest consumers of electricity in the world.
That’s not all, the societal focus on climate change and natural disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and droughts have only compounded the importance of the issue. The result? A sense of urgency by nearly all organizations to review, innovate, and change their power sources and energy management practices.
How have data centers responded? Many have met the challenge head-on – working to reducing consumption, increasing efficiency, and exploring renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower. The data center is changing. It’s companies like Amazon’s AWS, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Oracle, IBM, and Alibaba that are leading the charge and setting new standards for the industry.
In this article, I’ll present a few stats on the data center industry and power consumption. I’ll also look at the opportunities that exist in the industry and how a data center energy audit and assessment can be used to improve efficiency in the data center.
Data Centers & Power Consumption
How many data centers are there in the world? According to a report by Statista, there are approximately 7.2 million data centers worldwide. Experts predicted that the number of data centers would increase with technology advancements and adoption. However, the opposite occurred. The total number of data centers has declined by 1.3 million since 2015 when the number of data centers totaled 8.5 million.
What about data center power consumption? According to an article published in2017, US data centers consumed more than 90 billion (kWh) of electricity. How much power is that? It’s the equivalent of 34 massive coal-powered plants generating 500 megawatts (MW) each. Globally, data center power consumption amounted to about 416 tera-watts (TWh), or roughly three percent of all electricity generated on the planet.
Furthermore, the growth rate of data center power consumption has also not grown as quickly as anticipated. Total data center power consumption has grown by 6% since 2010. During that same time period, data center compute instances increased by 550%. Why? Servers, storage devices, network infrastructure, and other IT hardware that operate within the data center are more efficient now than ever before. Datacenter operators are also doing a better job with efficiency gains.
However, there’s still a need for continuous improvement and innovation as it relates to data center power consumption and efficiency.
Data Center Energy Audits & Assessments
Where to start? You’re ready. You’ve decided to explore available options but are unsure where to start. Does it make sense to start with a data center energy audit and power assessment? What does that entail? It depends on who you ask.
There are several different types of audits and assessments to consider. They include a walkthrough audit, comprehensive audit, and investment-grade audit. Based on your needs, you may have to hire one or more companies or consultants to help with your project. Companies like AppSmart Energy can help point you in the right direction as to where to start first.
1) Walk-Through Energy Audit
Walk-through energy audits are the least expensive and time-consuming. However, they can quickly identify the “low hanging fruit” for improving data center efficiency. This is a good starting point and includes general readings and measurements for the following:
- Lighting Levels
- Thermal Analysis
In most cases, an auditor will walk through the facility. They will also review energy data for the past 1-2 years to determine baseline energy usage, trends, costs, and potential savings. From this point, an auditor conducting a walk-through energy audit may recommend a more comprehensive audit.
2) Comprehensive Energy Audit
This is the standard when it comes to data center energy audits and assessments. A comprehensive energy audit involves collecting data on a facility for three or more years. This includes a detailed investigation into the data center electricity and power utilization.
A letter of authorization (LOA) will most likely need to be granted to the auditor by the company. This is used to collect detailed records on the following:
- Electricity Rates
- Electricity Sources
- Power Usage Records
3) Investment Grade Energy Audit
If you want the best and do not want to leave any energy-saving stone unturned, an investment-grade audit is going to be your best bet. With an investment-grade audit, auditors will examine your data center’s energy usage and footprint over the past three or more years.
- Electricity Rates
- Electricity Sources
- Power Usage Records
- Energy Design
- Energy Modeling
- Cost-Savings Analysis
Unlike the comprehensive audit, an investment-grade audit includes detailed energy models based on designs to illustrate the impacts of energy efficiency projects at the facility.
An investment-grade energy audit gives you a clear path to the anticipated ROI for investments in power system upgrades and other efficiency improvements. It is by far the most expensive of the three types of facility energy audits.
Assessing Data Center Energy Usage
Is there’s a difference between audits and assessments? Yes, assessments typically start where the audit left off. And as mentioned earlier, the amount of data collected depends on the type of audit being performed.
It’s common for data centers to undergo a comprehensive audit that examines three years or more of existing energy usage data. An energy efficiency model may start to form from the data collection alone. However, an auditor must visit the site to document energy-efficient actions that may need to be taken. This includes assessing areas such as:
- Electrical Power Chain
- HVAC Systems
- Air Management Systems
- On-Site Energy Generation
- Indoor & Outdoor Lighting
- Hardware & Software
What’s the final product? You will receive an energy audit and assessment report that examines the current cost of running the data center versus the projected cost after energy efficiency actions are implemented. It includes specific steps to lower your energy costs.
While it’s true that data center efficiency implementations can be costly in the beginning, case studies have shown that they can ultimately save millions in data center operational costs over the long run.
Energy Credits & Renewable Certificates
Deregulated Energy Markets
For those operating in deregulated energy markets, opportunities exist to lock-in or reduce electricity rates at a low price per kWh. And because electricity rates have a large impact on profitability, data center owners and operators can use energy markets to hedge against future price increases by utility providers.
Renewable Energy Certificates
In addition to purchasing energy credits and maintaining predictable electricity rates, data center owners and operators can also look to renewable energy credits as a way of offsetting their fossil fuel demand and carbon footprint.
Renewable energy credits allow companies to purchase and invest in green energy-producing power sources such as solar energy, wind power, hydropower, and more. This is very positive for brand awareness and recognition. It can help with attracting customers and talent.
Conclusion: Data Center Audits & Assessments – Where Cost Savings & Doing the Right Thing Go Hand-in-Hand
If you’re a data center owner or operator reading this, you’re probably focused on growing your business, expanding your facilities, and entering new markets. But you’re also thinking about “going green,” sourcing renewables, and focusing on improving data center power efficiency.
In this article, we covered the basics of data center power consumption, energy audits, and assessments. We looked at the three types of audits – walk-through audits, conventional audits, and investment-grade energy audits. We also looked at the difference between an audit and an assessment.
There is no way to cover all the details in a single article. Want to learn more about data center energy audits and assessment? Contact me to learn more about our free audit and assessment services. They’re perfect if you currently own and operate data centers or if you’re looking to invest in an existing data center facility.