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Smart Grid Technology Helps Data Centers Conserve Energy

Is there a “smart” meter in your home yet? Our family just received word that we will be receiving one soon, compliments of Southern California Edison. I’m looking forward to having more visibility into electricity usage around the house. Though I can’t say my wife and children share my enthusiasm, given I’ll be able to calculate the cost of cooking that roast in the oven or that computer monitor that was left on overnight.

That type of visibility will also be available, on a much larger scale, for data centers. Data centers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the type of real-time data and control that can come from integrated smart meters.

While this system is a few years in the future for most data centers, a smart-grid like concept can be deployed today. Data centers can use in-the-rack power strips, known as PDUs, connected to networks and enable staff to monitor and manage power down to individual receptacles. Such integration provides both the data center IT and Facilities managers with detailed information about the performance of network devices. This can help managers quickly identify and address energy-wasting inefficiencies. These systems also provide remote control over all aspects of the data center to manage an energy-efficient, “lights out” operation.

A quick look at the cost/benefit of integrating smart meters with the data center infrastructure and IT suite, especially in concert with a sophisticated DCIM package, indicates a very favorable return on investment. The financial, energy, and manpower investments are minimal and the costs will easily be recouped in less than one year. (For the technically inclined, I have more details on my blog.)

This approach can give data centers a head start to integrated energy management controls. When the utility brings the smart grid systems to the data center door, the facilities will gain more visibility into daily demand at the macro level. As smart grid advances, facilities will even be able to look at the capacity, quality, renewable energy and  CO2 composition, and anticipated availability for power from your local substation and perhaps as close as the service transformer.

When combined with business intelligence, a complete DCIM implementation and weather forecasts data centers will be able to make command-and-control decisions on the fly. This will provide unprecedented control to ensure maximum system availability based on business needs while also managing total energy demand, production and overall IT efficiency.

This approach can work more broadly for an organization with multiple data centers, which will use smart grid intelligence to re-allocate data center workloads based upon real-time power availability models combined with weather forecasts, renewable energy forecasts, energy pricing models, and forecasted business workloads and criticality.

Demand reduction opportunities combined with cogeneration – both supported by smart meters – can enable data centers to go off the grid. If the spot-market price is right from the utility, data centers can use the on-site power generation to function as a peaking-power plant for the utility and generate additional revenue. For instance, a rooftop solar array that helps power a data center can also feed surplus electricity back into the power grid – a move that makes the data center’s meter run backwards. This approach isn’t limited to photo-voltaic systems – it can also be used with any combined cooling, heating and power (CCHP), wind, solar thermal, geothermal, bio-mass, tidal mass or waste-to-energy systems.

Smart meters can also help data centers drive more efficiency from uninterruptable power supply (UPS) systems. Using “eco-mode” UPS can result in a 3 to 6 percent efficiency improvement. Smart meters interconnections will enable data centers to manage eco-mode UPS based on real-time information about pricing, workload, time of day and other factors.

As the smart grid comes on line, data centers will have many more resources to manage energy use. The result – reduced carbon emissions and more use of renewable energy while ensuring the system reliability customers demand.

Jack Pouchet is Director of Energy Initiatives for Emerson Network Power.

Jack Pouchet
Jack Pouchet is director of energy initiatives for Emerson Network Power.

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