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The Coming “C” Change in Data Centers

June 15, 2010
By Edward J. Lucente
Vice President of Business Development, Data Center Rebates, Inc.

Recently, I was at the Uptime Institute in New York and had several conversations about carbon dioxide (CO₂) management for data centers. Energy consumed by U.S. data centers in 2010 will reach 3% of overall U.S. energy production. This will double in about five years given that the annual growth in data center energy consumption is 10%. Increases in data center CO₂ emissions should mirror energy consumption increases since most data centers will be unable to convert to greener, cleaner, renewable energy sources.

The good folks at the Uptime Institute estimate that data center CO₂ emissions will quadruple between 2010 and 2020; also that annual global data center CO₂ emissions are already on par with the CO₂ emissions of the airline industry, or even entire countries. Maybe we should put data centers in airplanes and keep all the CO₂ flying around.

Annual CO₂ emission comparisons (Mt = thousands of metric tons)
U. S. data centers 170 Mt
Argentina 142 Mt
Netherlands 146 Mt
Malaysia 178 Mt

The IT professionals that I spoke with are becoming familiar with their data centers’ “carbon footprint.” They understand that by managing CO₂ emissions they will be better prepared for existing or future greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations. (GHG also includes water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone.)

Also, I noticed that a number of application software companies have sprouted up to promote carbon management information systems that deal with issues around CO₂ compliance standards, CO₂ inventory baselining, and financial management of carbon allowances and credits. Certainly, innovative application solutions will be needed to help data center professionals and executives navigate through CO₂ management challenges associated with:

  • Compliance.
  • Conservation.
  • Complexity.
  • Cost.
  • Competitiveness.

The federal government will be among the early adopters of carbon management software. The U.S. federal government’s demand for carbon management software is expected to grow from its current level of $36 million to $294 million by 2017, according to a new report by Pike Research.

US Legislation
In the United States, government regulations concerning CO₂ include the EPA’s GHG Reporting Rule and the pending Kerry-Lieberman bill, known as “cap and trade.” Under the EPA’s GHG Reporting Rule, suppliers of fossil fuels or industrial greenhouse gases, manufacturers of vehicles and engines, and facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more per year of GHG emissions are required to submit annual reports to the EPA. This would include the largest data centers, and there is a concern that over time this floor of 25,000 metric tons would be reduced by government. Currently, over a dozen U.S. states are contesting this new EPA law in court, so stay tuned.

The passage of the Kerry-Lieberman bill in 2010 is less certain, especially now with the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, but it is potentially far reaching. If passed, it would require many businesses to measure, monitor, or manage GHG offsets, abatement projects, GHG sources, GHG reporting, carbon prices, and various protocols. This could be a nightmare for data center professionals. Just the bill’s preamble scares me, especially the “for other purposes” language:

To secure the energy future of the United States, to provide incentives for the domestic production of clean energy technology, to achieve meaningful pollution reductions, to create jobs, and for other purposes.

Call for Action
I tend to believe that government mandates are less efficient delivery mechanisms than programs developed through private industry and self-regulation; what concerns me is that I have not seen the IT industry take a more proactive, self-regulatory role with regard to managing and minimizing CO₂ emissions. Consider these questions:

  • Why should the IT industry wait around for government standards on CO₂ emissions?
  • Shouldn’t data center professionals control and develop their own CO₂ management information systems since they understand best their unique IT and business environments?
  • Why wouldn’t a CEO, Corporate Sustainability Officer (CSO), Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) executive, or CIO want to take more control of their destiny?

As mentioned, IT shops can choose from various application solutions and turn to energy efficiency consultants for additional guidance. Data centers that reduce their CO₂ emissions will also reduce their energy bills (OpEx) and total cost of ownership.

I suggest, therefore, that the IT industry create its own “carbon efficiency consortium” to establish carbon management information standards and solutions aimed at reducing CO₂ emissions in data centers. This would be an industry-led, self-regulatory body that provides thought leadership on CO₂ management and shares best practices and recommendations for carbon management.

My bet is that data center professionals who develop internal management information systems for carbon management now will achieve significant cost savings ahead of their competitors. It’s not just about a greener planet; it’s about building a sustainable and competitive IT and industry advantage.

About the Author
Edward J. Lucente is V.P. of Business Development at Data Center Rebates, Inc., an IT efficiency consultancy based in Carlsbad, CA, whose professional services focus on data center energy efficiency (DCEE), leasing integrated with technology refreshes, and negotiation of IT energy rebates. Please feel free to email comments to

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