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How Does Data Center Energy Efficiency Affect Me?

2014 February 12

Data center pic


By: RJ Meyers

Before I started working  with EPA’s ENERGY STAR program, I honestly had very little idea how much internet connected devices like laptops, smart phones, tablets, and smart TVs used data centers.  Most web services, such as banking, online gaming, movie streaming, corporate websites, and social networking, are hosted in data centers that range in size from a small side room/closet to sprawling multi-million square foot complexes.  These facilities all contain varying amounts and types of IT equipment, as well as the power and cooling infrastructure needed to keep it all running.  They form a sort of “behind-the-scenes” infrastructure for your computer, performing work at some remote location in response to what you’re doing at home, in the office, or on your phone.

When combined, the electricity consumption of all the data centers in the U.S. amounts to somewhere between 2 and 3% of the total grid.  While that may sound small, it helps to remember that the U.S. grid is huge and 2 or 3% of a huge number is still very large—this works out to nearly 300 kWh of energy per person per year, or approximately six times the annual energy consumption of the average laptop1.

Inefficient data centers cost more in their day-to-day operations, since they are consuming and paying for extra energy to perform their services.  Less efficient equipment will also tend to run hotter and require more energy from cooling systems to keep from overheating.   Inefficient data centers also require more physical space between components to keep temperatures down.  All of these extra operating costs may be passed on to clients and ultimately on to everyone who uses their services (i.e., you and me!).

Higher efficiency simply means that you get more for less.  And “less” doesn’t just involve money.  Since the U.S. electrical grid depends heavily on fossil fuels, it also means fewer emissions of greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants such as mercury.  Power plant emissions lower air and water quality and can affect your health; plus they contribute to the acceleration of climate change.  Reducing emissions through efficiency measures will lead to cleaner air and water, better health, and reduce future damage from climate change.

Please note that while data centers consume lots of energy without your knowledge, they can also be used to avoid other even more consumptive and inefficient activities.  Holding a video conference at work or talking to someone across the country through an internet video chat service consumes far less energy and far fewer pollutants are emitted than flying there to meet in person.  It’s also more efficient to bank online than to drive to the bank in person, or to download a computer game or stream a movie than to go buy/rent a physical copy at the store.

There have been some great strides in IT energy efficiency in recent years, much of it pushed by increasing demand for services and the need to put more and more computing power into smaller and smaller spaces.  ENERGY STAR is proud to recognize and promote high efficiency IT products for data centers and to provide accurate information to data center operators as they look for ways to keep cooling and electricity costs to a minimum.  Doing so helps everyone reduce the impact of their IT infrastructure while improving the online services that we’ve all come to appreciate.

If you would like to learn more about ENERGY STAR certified Data Centers, please head to our website for more information.

About the Author:  RJ joined ENERGY STAR in late 2010 and immediately began work on energy efficiency specifications for a range of IT equipment.  RJ has a background in physics, electrical engineering, and sustainable energy and is told constantly by his family and friends that he is a huge nerd.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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