Topic: Data Centers

Will the Energy Crisis Choke the Lifeblood Out of Data Centers?

by Paul Schneider |

What happens when you combine a fragile supply chain, a pandemic, and a wildly unexpected rapid economic rebound? The answer most often is short-term shortages. However, because the combination of events covered the entire world, the short term is lasting longer and causing more challenges. The energy sector is still scrambling to recover more than 18 months after improvements in other sectors. This delay is causing more challenges affecting many facets of business, particularly data centers.


What's Causing this Global Energy Crisis?


Many factors contribute to the crisis globally. One factor is the ongoing move away from fossil fuels toward green energy sources, including solar and wind power. Another involves the ongoing political tensions around the world, particularly in Europe. The supply chain—getting resources to high-energy demand locations—is another. An aging infrastructure also contributes to the crisis. However, the main driver behind much of the energy shortage is the speed at which economies recovered after the COVID pandemic.

Despite many predictions of a recovery period lasting years, the economy surprised everyone unleashing pent-up demand for everything. Virtually every sector of the economy attempted to respond, putting an immense strain on energy supplies. The stress of these factors affecting energy also contributed to skyrocketing prices for oil, gas, and other electric generation markets.


How These Factors Affect Data Centers

Demand for computing accelerated because the pandemic continued its growth, creating an energy crisis within an energy crisis. Data centers share two common traits:

  • Many data centers cluster in geographic areas.
  • Data centers significantly increase demand on the power grid.
The electric power grid in the United States and other countries has experienced several challenges for decades. The rising use of electronic equipment has outpaced the efforts of utilities to keep up. Many consider data centers mission-critical facilities (because of the support provided to facilities such as hospitals, laboratories, government, etc.), consuming more than two percent of the electricity used in the United States. The energy crisis becomes more challenging in geographic regions in Virginia and California, where the concentration of data centers places localized strains on the power grid. Elected officials, in concert with the utilities, are attempting to provide relief in the form of legislation promoting short-term workarounds and long-term legislation to increase the capability of the electric power grid. Adding new power lines capable of handling 500,000-volt capabilities will resolve the challenges of brown or blackouts in those areas. However, these new lines will not come online for several years. 

Short-term alternatives include allowing data centers to use diesel generators when the power grid nears overload conditions. These alternatives exceed pollution guidelines, adding to air quality issues in those affected regions. Another option is to investigate using equipment that reduces energy consumption. A prime target for improvement is the HVAC systems installed in data centers.


Reducing HVAC Energy Cost

Data Center Energy Efficiency

Source:  Energy Innovation Policy & Technology LLC

Data centers consume 10 to 50 times the energy per floor space compared to a comparably sized office building. HVAC equipment in data centers accounts for an estimated 40% of the energy used. Efforts to reduce energy costs by arranging servers to form aisles to exhaust hot air and those to bring in cool air can provide some savings. Still, HVAC manufacturers must find ways to reduce energy through more efficient equipment. Fortunately, Greenheck has been working on reducing energy costs for years.


How can you turn down HVAC energy consumption in your data center projects?


Greenheck engineers have developed new products and refined existing ones to provide significant cost savings on products that include energy recovery ventilators (ERV), fan arrays, dedicated outdoor air systems (DOAS), tempered air products (TAP) to condition the air, and air handling units (AHU). These products, and those making up computer room air handler (CRAH) and computer room air conditioner (CRAC) systems, provide energy savings when combined with external solutions to the power grid, reducing the strain, and reducing the chances of future energy crises.


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Paul Schneider
Paul Schneider
Paul Schneider
Paul Schneider is Greenheck’s National Business Development Manager--Data Centers. Paul’s career spans 30 years in the data center marketplace with a background in analytics, software and hardware.
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