Energy Insider Blog

Data Centers: The Case for Energy Risk Management and Energy Reliability

Posted by Alberto Rios on Mar 11, 2015 9:30:00 AM

As the world has moved in to the 21st century, the amount of data being stored and communicated electronically continues to grow at an astronomical rate. Data centers are critical to today’s business world in that they allow everyday tasks such as email and email storage, provide back-up capability for many business, and are the technology hubs powering the data driven 21st century economy. Many data center companies are also involved in cloud computing which allows users to store and access their data anywhere in the world through a host of devices including laptops, tablets and smart-phones.


According to Greenpeace, in their 2012 study entitled “How Clean is your Cloud?” data centers and telecommunications companies, which rely on the cloud to support the latest smart phones, consumed approximately 620 million megawatt hours, roughly one-sixth of the total electricity consumed in the U.S. and exceeding the power usage of countries such as France and Germany.

Having invested millions of dollars in very sensitive high tech equipment and a business model that relies on being available, the need for reliable power supplies is critical. The highest cost of downtime is generally related to problems in the data center’s cooling and power infrastructure. In response to this challenge, most data centers turn to on-site generation for back-up power to keep the data center up and running in the event of an outage on the power grid. Besides reliability, back-up generators provide data centers the opportunity to participate in Demand Response programs, which can generate revenues by providing standby capacity to the grid. In some cases back-up generators could be used for peak response to take advantage of high real time prices. Data centers are positioned to maximize energy savings by developing a holistic energy management solution that encompasses product structuring, risk management, energy procurement and Demand Response. A relationship with an energy advisor can be crucial to unlock the value of the aggregate energy puzzle.

There are opportunities for creating sustainable solutions that can help manage energy costs and provide environmental benefits. For instance, data centers tend to take up significant amounts of space, and typically are located in buildings with a great deal of roof space. This creates an opportunity for installation of rooftop solar panels to provide some amount of renewable energy to meet the energy demand of a data center. In addition, the solar panels can be used to charge on-site batteries providing stand-by power in the event of a loss of energy from the power grid. As an alternative to solar panels, wind micro-turbines could be installed on the roof and/or around the data center campus. Similar to the solar panel option, wind turbines could be used to reduce consumption from more traditional power sources that have a greater impact on the environment.

While energy costs are certainly important, energy reliability is even more critical as electricity is the lifeblood of a data center. This problem has typically been addressed through the colocation of on-site generation designed to kick on in the event of a failure of the power grid. However, most data centers have not taken advantage of recent technology advances. Specifically, the ability to use M2M advances in metering and energy control technology. By offering a value proposition that marries energy procurement risk management with enhanced energy reliability, energy professionals can become indispensable partners for data centers.

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