Climate Corps 2010: 3 Ways to Improve Energy Star for Data Centers

The economy of the 21st Century is built on a foundation of knowledge and information sharing. For companies, this accumulated knowledge is stored in vast computer data centers. 

Not only do these data centers store data and network-computer and information systems, but in the case of FedEx, data centers also help manage a complex worldwide operation enabling customers to ship a package anywhere in the world, typically in one to three business days. 

A major operational and environmental cost of running these data centers is the vast amount of energy that these centers consume. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2007, data centers accounted for approximately 1.5 percent of all electricity used in the United States. That number is expected to double by 2011.

As a participating host company in this year’s EDF Climate Corps program, FedEx hired two fellows to spend the summer examining energy usage throughout FedEx data centers. One of our projects has been to identify a certification program that would recognize the energy efficiency practices already in place at FedEx, while still helping the company set and design a strategy to meet future energy goals. 

With FedEx’s rollout of the EarthSmart program in April, a great opportunity to amplify the ongoing efforts of an already energy-conscious organization has arisen. One certification program that we’ve been researching is EPA’s Energy Star Program since it unveiled its initiative for data centers last month.

Started in 1992, the EPA’s Energy Star program has a long history of increasing consumer awareness about energy-saving products. The Energy Star label graces everything from energy-efficient washers and dryers, to refrigerators and new HD televisions. By partnering with a variety of organizations and developing metrics that can be applied fairly across an industry, Energy Star has developed strong credibility with consumers and garnered voluntary participation from more than 17,000 public and private organizations across the country.

What does Energy Star Know About Buildings?

Originally applied to electronics and appliances, Energy Star’s movement into evaluating building performance has greatly expanded the program’s reach.  Although the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification process has traditionally been the standard for measuring the greenness of structures, Energy Star focuses on one critical life cycle cost that can often be undervalued in the existing LEED standards: energy use. Energy Star has already certified more than 10,000 buildings and plants, including other heavy energy consumers such as hospitals, hotels and grocery stores.

Recognizing the large energy footprint of data center operations, Congress directed the EPA to evaluate the inclusion of data centers in its Energy Star program in 2007. The EPA recently expanded the Energy Star certification program to include data centers on June 7.