Data Center First to Achieve New LEED Standards

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — An advanced cooling system has helped Grainger’s new data center achieve LEED v4 Gold certification, a first for this type of facility.

Grainger is a worldwide, Fortune 500 industrial supply company. At its headquarters in Lake Forest, the company commissioned a 27,000-square-foot data center designed for efficiency — something that’s hard to grasp for a facility that runs IT equipment nonstop.

Data centers devour energy, using up to 200 times more electricity than typical office spaces. In 2013, U.S. data centers consumed an estimated 91 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, enough to power all the households in New York City twice over, according to statistics released in August by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). By 2020, data center electricity consumption will equal the annual output of 50 power plants, costing American businesses $13 billion and emitting nearly 100 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year.

The design of Grainger’s data center, however, incorporates an air-cooling system that takes advantage of outside air to help cool down the facility. The data center is expected to consume up to 50 percent less energy for cooling than similar data centers.

Grainger could have aimed for LEED Platinum in the old v3 application for its new data center, but the company chose to incorporate new LEED v4 BD+C standards, which were finalized more than seven months after the project broke ground. Throughout planning and construction of the data center, Grainger teamed up with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for guidance on how to incorporate the new LEED requirements.

The data center is not the first LEED accomplishment for Grainger. In 2008, the company became the first industrial distributor to have a LEED certified facility. In all, the company operates 18 LEED certified buildings in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

“The Grainger team has not only created a space that mitigates greenhouse gas emissions and saves money through reduced energy and water use, but with the first LEED v4 BD+C project, they are also playing an essential role in driving the market toward healthier, better buildings for all," said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council, in a statement.

When it comes to energy efficiency, data centers are some of the worst offenders. These facilities use what is called power usage effectiveness (PUE) to measure how efficiently they’re using energy, specifically in non-computing systems such as air-flow management. Grainger’s air-cooling design is expected to have a top PUE rating of 1.2 at full capacity, while the industry average is 2.0.

“Our goal is always to build the most sustainable facility possible,” said Gail Edgar, vice president of Grainger Real Estate and Facilities Services, in a statement. “One of the most important components of the project was to realize significant energy savings by maintaining a low Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), which measures the energy used beyond the IT load.”

While giant businesses such as Grainger, Facebook and Google are already making efforts to benchmark and improve their energy efficiency, the NRDC says smaller- and medium-sized data centers should take a hard look at their wasteful energy practices.

“Most of the attention is focused on the highly visible hyperscale ‘cloud’ data centers like Google’s and Facebook’s, but they already are very efficient and represent less than 5 percent of U.S. data center electricity consumption. Our small, medium, corporate, and multi-tenant data centers are still squandering huge amounts of energy,” said Pierre Delforge, NRDC director of high-tech energy efficiency, in a statement.

Some of the NRDC’s key findings show many data centers are draining energy by running computer servers that do little or no work most of the time; around 30 percent of servers are no longer needed because projects have ended or business processes have changed. Poor communication between departments can also contribute to inefficiency. For example, in 80 percent of organizations, the department responsible for data center management isn’t the one paying the electric bills.

“New practices and policies are needed to accelerate the pace and scale of the adoption of energy efficiency best practices throughout the industry,” Delforge said. “Nearly one-third of all leased data center space will come up for renewal over the next year, so the time to act is now.”

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