Five years ago, Northern California utility Pacific Gas and Electric Co. made headlines by finding novel ways to offer rebates for energy efficiency in the data center. The company’s programs became a model for other utilities in the state and around the world.
Mark Bramitt (formerly of PG&E) led those initial efforts, and is still working to bring energy efficiency rebates to data centers around the country. Mark is a judge for the Green Enterprise IT awards at the Uptime Symposium, May 9-12 in Santa Clara, Calif. and I spoke to him this week at The Green Grid Technical Forum about the state of data center efficiency incentives today.
You’ve been working with some utilities other than PG&E on how to implement data center efficiency incentives. Who are you working with and what are the projects like?
MB: I have a couple of projects on the East Coast for program planning, ConEdison and hoping to work with National Grid. What I’m finding is this is a go east business. The utilities in California and the West Coast in general do pretty well at addressing their data center and IT markets, though they sometimes bring me in to help.
But the market is on the East Coast where the data center efficiency budgets are exploding. They actually quadrupled in Massachusetts recently. There is a huge amount of funding for energy efficiency programs. The utilities know they need to get into the data center space, and they want to learn from the experience we have on the West Coast on how to implement those programs.
What are the big challenges to developing and implementing data center efficiency incentives?
MB: I don’t think it’s so much developing them. We tailor the programs I helped develop at PG&E, which were really comprehensive. Sometimes we narrow those down. So if you’re in downtown Manhattan, it’s not a data center program, as much as a server room program. You tailor your offerings to meet the local market.
The challenge for the utilities is that they don’t have people on their own staff who understand the technologies and the measures. And they have a real challenge going after the market. I like to help them with the marketing and outreach component of their program. We’ve always found that offering education and training programs is a great way to get IT and Facilities managers in the same room and to get people talking about implementing the measures.
Facilities incentives vs. IT incentives: Which is more difficult?
MB: The facilities stuff is “easy” in that you can do new construction incentives for new data centers, and that’s all around facilities. You can do retrofits, but there are certain retrofits that don’t make financial sense. For example, I’ve never seen anyone retrofit an air-side economizer.
Utilities are really challenged on the IT side. EPA and EnergyStar are doing a really good job with standards, but the generations of equipment change so quickly utilities throw their hands up and say it’s impossible to incent the right behavior because things are moving so fast, they don’t know whether the incentives are making a difference or if people would do those things anyway.
I understand you wrote a report on data center containers. Can you tell us about that project?
MB: I wrote a report on behalf of the General Services Administration though Lawrence Berkeley National Lab with Henry Coles, Program Manager at LBNL. We wrote a paper on modular/container data center infrastructure to focus on two issues: What should the GSA specify and choose to get the best energy efficiency? And do those decisions impact on your ability to deploy these things quickly?
Of course, the primary benefit of containerized or modular data centers is to deploy this infrastructure fast. What we found was second generation units, with on-board air-side economizers often supplemented with evaporative cooling, those units have a real advantage in energy efficiency. And they’re cheaper, easier to deploy than first generation units that needed chillers to support them. I hope it’s a useful report for the federal government and the industry at large.