How to improve data centers energy efficiency?

energy efficiency, carbon neutral, data centers, lightingGiven that data centers are becoming larger and more numerous, the theme of making them more energy efficient is coming increasingly to the fore. The scale of the data center power usage is now making it a concern, not just of those in the IT industry, but also of energy policymakers at large.

According to the Climate Group’s SMART 2020 report, data centers represented 14 percent of the global IT footprint, which in turn represented 2 percent of total worldwide carbon emissions. Furthermore, data center emissions look set to increase for the foreseeable future. A research paper produced by Rice University and the Singapore Institute for Sustainable and Applied Infodynamics claimed data center-related emissions would triple by 2020.

Lighting up efficiency

However, besides increasing the efficiency of the server units themselves, or switching them to standby mode during downtime, how can energy and cost savings be made in data centers?

The answer, it seems, could be focusing on the lighting.

According to an editorial in the Data Center Journal, while lighting only accounts for between 3 and 5 percent of data centers’ electrical load, it can make a big difference to their power usage effectiveness (PUE), the measure of a data center’s energy efficiency. In the article, it is stated that energy efficient lighting networks that integrate building performance systems can improve PUE by as much as 25 percent.

Sam Klepper of Redwood Systems, who wrote the piece, said intelligent lighting systems and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) were key to energy efficiency improvements in data centers:

“It’s not the average light bulb that can streamline the operations of sprawling data centers, however. Only an intelligent lighting system can (and does) do the job. To understand how a building-performance lighting platform can serve as the catalyst to creating significantly more-efficient data centers, it’s important to look at the heart of the lighting system: networked light-emitting diodes.”

Klepper went on to describe how data centers could customize their lighting systems in order to adapt to their lighting needs. Klepper said this customization might include:

  • Sensor-driven, occupancy-based lighting to ensure lights only switch on when employees need them;
  • daylight harvesting, which automatically adjusts to light levels;
  • lighting policy scheduling that accommodates lighting needs at different times of day;
  • automatic fixture outage alerts for facilities managers; and
  • fixture-specific data collection, enabling the analysis of each light’s use to inform any necessary fine-tuning and to minimize wasted energy and money.

Carbon neutral data hosting

Lighting aside, data centers do seem to be becoming more energy efficient. Just over a year ago, British IT hosting company UKFast claimed to be the world’s first carbon neutral hosting company. In addition to offsetting all its CO2 emissions, the Manchester-based firm also has plans to generate its own clean energy from hydroelectric power plants.

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