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EPA, Energy seek to reduce data center energy use

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department this week launched a wide-ranging program that aims to curb the energy consumption of data centers -- those vast warehouses of electronic equipment used to process and store digital information. With their energy use growing at a rate of 12 percent a year, federal and industry officials have become increasingly alarmed about the strain the demand is placing on the electric grid.

Comment on this article in the forum.Data centers in 2006 used 61 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity -- twice the energy they consumed in 2000, according to the EPA. The peak load on the power grid was about 7 gigawatts, or the output equivalent of about 15 power plants. If the trend continues, an additional 10 power plants would be required by 2011 to support data center operations.

"I have talked to literally hundreds of customers, and I have found no one who says this isn't an issue," Dick Sullivan, director of enterprise solutions marketing for EMC Corp. in McLean, Va., told Government Executive in an interview last fall. EMC Corp. helps clients, including a number of federal agencies and Congress, protect and manage data.

It's not an overstatement that data center operations form the very fabric of modern life. They are critical to national security and every sector of the U.S. economy, from financial services and health care to commerce and manufacturing. Besides straining the electricity grid, their growing energy consumption is driving up operating costs for industry and government and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Through the National Data Center Energy Efficiency Information Program, EPA and Energy will work with industry groups to establish metrics for defining the energy performance for data center facilities, develop performance measurement tools for center operators and develop equipment specifications and labeling to highlight efficient products on the market.

The agencies also are developing a certification program for efficiency experts to qualify them to help data center operators identify and implement energy-saving initiatives. They also will recognize best-in-class data centers and attempt to create an industry-recognized certification process that validates the status of those top-performing centers.

In a report to Congress last August, EPA estimated that data center managers could cut energy consumption by as much as 70 percent if they adopted the most efficient technologies available.

EPA and Energy are working with a number of industry partners on the program, including 7X24 Exchange; AFCOM; American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers; Critical Facilities Roundtable; Information Technology Industry Council; Silicon Valley Leadership Group; The Green Grid Association and the Uptime Institute.

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