Data Centers Aim for Energy Efficiency

MINNEAPOLIS — Renewable energy used to help power data centers is increasingly gaining interest, according to a new survey from Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction.

Mortenson surveyed corporate data center executives, data center developers and operators, and IT providers at the 2014 Data Center World Conference, which took place last September in Orlando. A majority — 84 percent — of respondents believe there is a need to consider renewable forms of energy, such as wind and solar, to manage energy needs, specifically power and cooling costs.

Energy is the biggest cost for data centers, according to Mortenson, which makes power and cooling considerations the most important drivers in determining location, design and construction. Data center operators said in the survey they would most like to change energy efficiency for their facilities, and nearly half of survey participants believe a better power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating can be achieved through improved technologies.

“Worldwide data usage continues to grow, which requires more infrastructure and power to support it, so it’s vital that we leverage innovation to help balance energy demand and supply,” said Scott Ganske, director of operations for Mortenson’s mission critical group, in a statement. “There are a number of promising technologies that will drive energy efficiency forward in the next few years; and renewable energy increasingly makes economic as well as environmental sense for the energy supply chain. With costs dropping and operating efficiency rising, we believe renewables are rightly attracting interest from data center operators.”

Renewable energy sources have become more attractive in recent years. Costs for producing wind energy have decreased 58 percent and costs for solar power have fallen by 40 percent, according to Mortenson. Wind farms now generate power 50 percent of the time, up from 35 percent in 2007.

Several U.S. technology firms are investing in power purchase agreements (PPAs) with wind energy producers, which is a financial arrangement in which a third-party developer owns and maintains a solar power system and a customer agrees to house the system on its property and purchase the electrical output from the solar panels. This arrangement helps to lock in energy costs over the long term. Mortenson has built several wind farms located in Illinois, Iowa and Texas that are part of PPA deals.

Data center owners are becoming more interested in pursuing LEED certification to help with their energy burden, as well. Currently, 21 percent of data centers are LEED certified, and 36 percent anticipate seeking LEED certification on their next project.