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A Cool Way to Address a Data Center Energy Dilemma

According to a report by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company and the Uptime Institute, the average data center consumes the same amount of energy as 25,000 households. Data centers in general may surpass the airline industry as a top greenhouse gas polluter by 2020.

Clearly, as the global business community struggles with improving sustainability and reducing operational energy costs, data centers and the energy required to operate them should remain top of mind.

UPS is no exception. Like other large, data-reliant businesses, the company is focused on managing growing energy costs and creating sustainable solutions for the business. One of these challenges was developing an energy-efficiency solution for one of UPS’s two largest data centers: the Windward Data Center near Atlanta, which monitors all of the information about UPS’s approximately 15 million packages delivered daily worldwide.

Evaluating the System and Finding Solutions

After studying the facility’s energy consumption and losses, one of the easiest energy-reduction opportunities was found in the Power Distribution Cabinets that reside on the floor of the data center.

These cabinets provide power to the server equipment and are open underneath the floor. The team found that their perforated metal tops allowed massive amounts of airflow up through them, causing a loss of static pressure underneath the floor. This resulted in significant amounts of fan energy needed to overcome these losses, while the PDU cabinets need very little airflow to be cooled.

The simple solution: The perforated metal tops were covered with Plexiglas, resulting in a much greater increase in under-floor static pressure. This, as well as implementing other air-optimization techniques, is saving more than 1,500,000 kWh per year.

Resolving A Data Center’s Greatest Challenge

Keeping the center cool – a challenge for any company operating an industrial or data center-reliant operation – offered another energy-saving opportunity. So the team began to develop a program of solutions that included the installation of a Plate Heat Exchanger, enabling the shutdown of 400-kilowatt chillers for a minimum of five months of the year – essentially providing “free” cooling to the data center, a process highly unusual in a warm climate zone like Atlanta.

Unusually high efficiency is also attributable to the Windward Data Center’s 650,000-gallon thermal water storage tank, which provides backup cooling, as well as the facility’s Thermal Storage Tank, which provides chilled water to the data center, but depleting its thermal charge. Using 45- to 50-degree water to cool the building, the water in the tank eventually warms up – requiring a re-charge from either a chiller in the summer, or the Plate Heat Exchanger in the winter. And while the average electrical rates have nearly doubled since 1999, Windward has reduced its electrical bill by nearly $110,000 annually, with the Plate Heat Exchanger alone providing a savings of more than 1,440,000 kWh per year and reducing carbon emissions by more than 1,000 tons.

These are real savings, important when the economy is strong and when it’s not. And while environmental impacts of data centers might not be top of mind for the average consumer, the global business community has its sights set on these facilities and is focused on reducing energy consumption by creating innovative, sustainable solutions that will accommodate a technology-driven economy in a responsible manner.

Joe Parrino is the Facilities Engineer of UPS’s Windward Data Center near Atlanta.

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