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Study: U.S. Data Centers Consume As Much Electricity as State of Utah

A new report from the Alliance to Save Energy says computer data centers offer an important area for increasing the nation’s energy efficiency and notes policies and measures that could help mitigate the energy used by this emerging sector.Energy Efficiency in Data Centers: A New Policy Frontier (PDF) says the thousands of high-density data centers nationwide that house some 10 million computer servers typically consume 15 times more energy per square foot – and in some instances up to 100 times more – than a typical office building.

“Energy-intensive data centers, which run 24 hours, seven days a week, consume significant amounts of electricity -? an estimated 20 to 30 billion kilowatt hours annually, roughly equal to the electricity consumption of the entire state of Utah,” said report author and Alliance Vice President of Research and Analysis Joe Loper. “That electricity costs $2 to $3 billion a year and requires about 30 power plants.”

The new Alliance report offers suggestions for how governments can raise awareness about data center energy use and encourage energy efficienc, including sub-metering to help isolate energy-efficiency opportunities; supporting efforts to develop server and power supply energy performance metrics; evaluating minimum energy performance standards for server power supplies; ensuring that data center best practices are included in commercial building codes; and establishing tax and/or utility incentives to help defray the cost of more efficient equipment.

Government involvement in computer efficiency is increasing. Earlier this year, in a letter to computing-industry representatives, the EPA said it is initiating its process to develop an Energy Star specification for enterprise computer servers. President Bush signed a bill that urges Americans to buy energy-efficient servers, and the Department of Energy has begun trying to get involved in helping companies become more energy-efficient. Technology companies including Google, IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard met with DOE officials last month to discuss fears that volatile and expensive energy could hinder the tech sector.

Computer companies have also been rolling out new energy-efficient products recently. Dell has unveiled two PowerEdgeservers that the company says underscores its commitment to environmental responsibility and its goal to design the most energy-efficient products.

Dell’s not alone – manufacturers such as IBM, HP and Sun have made recent announcements concerning the energy efficiency of their systems. IBM recently announced that it would launch a new business unit in 2007 that will focus on environmental technologies. Hewlett-Packard announced a new energy management system, dubbed HP Dynamic Smart Cooling, that’s designed to deliver 20 to 45 percent savings in cooling energy costs. In addition, Sun has unveiled its Project BlackBox.

Most recently, Pacific Gas and Electric Company announced that it is leading a nationwide coalition of utilities to tackle energy efficiency programs for the high tech sector, focusing on data centers and incentives for energy efficiency.

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