Most federal government data centers operate with a power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of around 2.0, meaning they have significant room for improvement. And it’s looking more and more like they will soon be forced to improve, as the regulatory winds are blowing in that direction.
The states of California and Washington, which tend to be ahead of the curve when it comes to efficiency standards, have already moved to mandate more efficient data centers. Both states are requiring use of economizer modes of cooling for data centers. That makes perfect sense, because economizers can indeed dramatically reduce your data center energy consumption – by 50% if you follow best practice design principles, according to this post by my colleague Wendy Torell.
California has already implemented a huge data center consolidation initiative, mandating that all state agencies move mission critical and public facing applications to either the massive Tier III state data center it built several years ago, or to other designated Tier III data centers. All remaining data centers will have to show it operates with a PUE of 1.5 or better and follows the latest ASHRAE recommended thermal guidelines for data centers
Where the states go, the federal government usually follows. It appears this case will be no exception, as the federal government has its own data center consolidation plan well under way. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we soon see a mandate along the lines of California’s, dictating a PUE level that all federal data centers must adhere to – I’ve seen a presentation from the Dept. of Energy referencing a PUE target of 1.4.
A bill geared toward driving energy efficiency in government agencies recently passed the House of Representatives before failing in the Senate. I fully expect that will come up again in the next session, and may well have different results given the impending change in Senate leadership.
It makes sense, then, for government data centers to stay in front of the issue and try to get their PUEs down. (Of course, that makes sense even in the absence of any mandate, simply because it saves money, and we all want to be good stewards of our tax payer dollars.) Which brings us back to economizers as a prime solution for driving energy efficiency.
In my dealings with customers, the main sticking point when it comes to economizers is a familiar one: budget, or lack thereof. Project budgets get passed at the 11th hour, often under continuing resolutions that leave little wiggle room for design changes like adding economizers.
But there are other, creative ways to get such projects funded. We’ve previously covered the idea of using energy saving performance contracts (ESPCs) to finance such projects:
In brief, here’s how it works: The ESPC is established between a federal agency and an authorized Energy Service Company (ESCO). The parties then draft a comprehensive energy-savings plan, and the ESCO secures the necessary funding. The ESCO guarantees that enough energy will be saved over the term of the contract (up to 25 years) to pay for the project. Any excess savings return to the agency.
As you can imagine, there is a process you have to go through to set up an ESPC, as with just about anything in the federal government. But my guess is these sorts of contracts will be the primary vehicle through which agencies can pay for upgrades such as economizers that will drive data center energy efficiencies to levels that will likely soon be required. Consider this a heads-up that it’s time to get the ball rolling.