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EPA: Federal Datacenters Can Cut Energy Use

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By Allan Holmes August 13, 2007

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The federal government may soon be asked to take a leadership position in reducing the amount of energy that datacenters consume.

According to a report released last week by the Environmental Protection Agency, the federal government, working with the private sector, should develop a standard method to measure how much energy federal datacenters consume; publicly report how much energy each federal datacenter consumes; conduct in two to three years what energy efficient methods can be utilized; and install cost-effective equipment that leads to reduced energy consumption in each datacenter. EPA found that by following certain best practices (including consolidating servers, purchasing energy-efficient servers, installing energy-efficient fans and coolers, and adopting advanced technologies such as “direct liquid cooling), federal data centers could cut up to 80 percent of its electrical demand, producing a savings of $510 million a year.

You may wonder why. It turns out that datacenters and servers are using up an increasing amount of electricity to process, store and manipulate the exploding amount of digital data. And that leads to the emission of more greenhouse gases. Datacenters and servers in the United States accounted for 1.5 percent of all electrical consumption in 2006, double the consumption in 2000, according to the EPA report. If unabated, consumption could double again in the next five years with a cost of $7.4 billion. According to the report:

The peak load on the power grid from these servers and data centers is currently estimated to be approximately 7 gigawatts (GW), equivalent to the output of about 15 baseload power plants. If current trends continue, this demand would rise to 12 GW by 2011, which would require an additional 10 power plants.

No information exists for the number of federal datacenters and servers, but the EPA estimates that the federal government accounts for 10 percent of the national consumption of electricity by all datacenters and servers. Therefore, the report concludes:

These forecasts indicate that unless energy efficiency is improved beyond current trends, the federal government’s electricity cost for servers and data centers could be nearly $740 million annually by 2011, with a peak load of approximately 1.2 GW.

EPA submitted its report to Congress as required by Public Law 109-431, asking the EPA to work with the computer industry to determine if anything can be done to curtail the energy consumption of federal datacenters and servers.

The trend is clear for federal datacenter operators: Expect some new energy requirements coming from the Hill.

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