Energy Implications of Economizer Use in California Data Centers

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In the US, data center operations currently account for about 61 billion kWh/y of electricity consumption, which is more than 1.5% of total demand. Data center energy consumption is rising rapidly, having doubled in the last five years. A substantial portion of datacenter energy use is dedicated to removing the heat generated by the computer equipment. Datacenter cooling load might be met with substantially reduced energy consumption with the use of air-side economizers. This energy saving measure, however, has been shown to expose servers to an order-of-magnitude increase in indoor particle concentrations with an unquantified increase in the risk of equipment failure. An alternative energy saving option is the use of water-side economizers, which do not affect the indoor particle concentration but require additional mechanical equipment and tend to be less beneficial in high humidity areas. Published research has only presented qualitative benefits of economizer use, providing industry with inadequate information on which to base their design decisions. Energy savings depend on local climate and the specific building-design characteristics. In this paper, based on building energy models, we report energy savings for air-side and water-side economizer use in data centers in several climate zones in California. Results show that in terms of energy savings, air-side economizers consistently outperform water-side economizers, though the performance difference varies by location. Model results also show that conventional humidity restrictions must by relaxed or removed to gain the energy benefits of air-side economizers.

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