NEW YORK (Reuters) - As everything from health-care records to television goes online, the burgeoning U.S. data-center industry is looking for ways to curb its skyrocketing energy consumption.
Data storage centers are among the fastest-growing consumers of energy in the United States, with electricity needs projected to grow by 12 percent annually, said Alexander Karsner, the assistant secretary for renewables and efficiency at the U.S. Department of Energy.
Members of the Green Grid Association, a group of IT companies, data center operators and consumers, on Tuesday signed a memorandum of understanding with the DOE to boost energy efficiency by 10 percent at U.S. data centers.
The agreement comes on the heels of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study released in August, which found that data centers account for 1.5 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption — the equivalent of the amount of electricity used by 5.8 million average U.S. households or $4.5 billion a year.
But at some data centers, as little as 30 percent of that energy use goes to processing and storage, according to the Green Grid. The rest either dissipates as heat generated by data servers or is gobbled up by coolers, humidifiers, and other data-center infrastructure.
Green Grid members hope to slash the amount of electricity going to those peripheral functions at data centers and dedicate more energy to actual data storage.
As data centers become indispensable for sectors as various as banking, government, and entertainment, demand for data processing and storage has doubled in the last five years, according to the EPA.
“Data centers are the factories of the 21st century,” Roger Tipley, an engineering strategist at Hewlett Packard Co and member of the Green Grid’s board, told reporters.
Setting a goal of shaving off about 10 percent from data-center energy use will free up more space for the growing demand for these new factories, industry insiders said.
“You have a tremendous increase in demand on IT, we have limited power ability today to satisfy that demand,” said John Tuccillo, a board member of the Green Grid and an executive at American Power Conversion. “If you look at energy efficiency, you are increasing the utilization of the data center and thereby the capability to satisfy the increased demand.”
Cutting energy consumption at data centers will also enhance the bottom line.
“With efficiency, you are really pointing out to industry how much profit to their bottom line they can ultimately ascertain, how much they can gain,” said Karsner.
With no intervention, the amount of energy data centers consume could double to 120 billion kWh by 2011, according to the EPA study, straining an already overburdened electricity grid.
“When they cumulatively take these actions, it’s tantamount to our national interest,” said Karsner.