48 ELECTRICALCONTRACTOR | SEP. 14 | WWW.ECMAG.COM
> FOCUS TAMING THE ENERGY HOGS
It’s also vital for the data center to practice good thermal
management and to not allow warm and cool air to mix.
“It’s easy to fix with the use of blanking plates that cover up
any air leaks in the facility,” Spears said.
He also sees potential efficiencies in designing new data
centers from “the computer rack out,” rather than from “the
building in.” With this strategy, the electrical contractor can
provide input that helps the data center owner determine the
kind of rooms and electrical equipment that will be needed to
house and efficiently operate the racks and computers that are
envisioned, rather than constructing a building and then sizing
Fortunately, many gains have already been made in efficiency improvements in the power chain of IT equipment and
UPS systems, according to DeLattre. For example, UPS operational efficiency has grown from its level of 85–90 percent
several years ago to 97–98 percent today.
“This has been accomplished through removing the input and
output transformers in the UPS and through advances in power
electronics,” he said. “There is less to gain now in power chain
efficiency, but cooling is an area of possible additional gains.”
“A multimode UPS examines the quality of the incoming
power and determines how much of that power the data cen-
ter’s electronics need to operate,” Spears said.
The result is a UPS that operates efficiently when power
quality is excellent, which is 99 percent of the time, according to Spears. In addition, the UPS instantaneously changes
to a more protective operating mode when it senses a power
Obstacles to efficiency
As with most things, money to invest in efficiency improvements is an obstacle.
“For projects that are too focused on the bottom line, it
becomes too easy to not purchase the greener, more efficient,
and frequently expensive products,” Hughes said.
In addition, the critical nature of data center operations and
the unwillingness of owners, manufacturers and contractors to
really improve efficiency is another obstacle.
“The very conservative nature of the industry can impede
the acceptance of new technologies, even though they are more
efficient,” he said.
Perhaps these obstacles will be overcome as municipalities
and utilities offer even more incentives for facilities to use more
“As incentives reduce the data center’s financial risk, their
willingness to make the investment in more efficient technologies should increase,” Hughes said.
Handlin said the compartmentalization of responsibilities in
the data center is another key obstacle. For example, the person
responsible for building the data center, the person operating
it, and the person responsible for the utility bill are typically
three different people from different parts of the organization.
“Perhaps the best way to overcome the reluctance to
improve data center efficiency is to change and standardize the
performance metrics of the individuals building the data center
and the individuals operating the data center so that there are
incentives to change behavior,” he said.
A final barrier involves the battery systems. Through the
years, lead-acid battery-based UPS systems have proven to be
expensive and unreliable. One bad cell in a string of 40 batteries can result in a failure to protect the server. Also, batteries
require an excessive amount of testing, monitoring and maintenance that hinder IT activities, and they contain hazardous
chemicals that require stringent disposal methods.
“Data from major UPS companies confirm that 70 percent
of the service calls made on a failed UPS system are a result of
battery problems,” DeLattre said.
He advised using a kinetic-energy system or flywheels to
help overcome these issues.
How the contractor fits in
Hughes said electrical contractors that invest more of themselves in their projects are better able to participate in the data
center’s equipment decision-making process.
“We’re seeing a new type of electrical contractor that is
specifically focused on the needs of the data center,” he said.
“Contractors that want to be involved in this market, however,
need a dedicated staff that will learn the needs of data centers,
repeat successes and improve performance.”
Spears said it is actually the nature of the data center mar-
ket that enables contractors to go beyond just implementing
the decisions made by others and to be more involved in the
“This market encourages contractors to leverage their
expertise and be a true design partner,” he said, adding that
contractors should become experts in Leadership in Energy
and Environmental Design certification programs to better
help the end-user make decisions and to help direct long-term
Additionally, Handlin said coming data center energy-efficiency and resource management regulations will affect the
electrical contractor’s role in the market.
“Other parts of the world have already enacted PUE and
carbon-usage regulations,” he said. “As the U.S. develops its own
efficiency mandates, contractors can play a pivotal role going
forward by knowing how to properly measure data center PUE
and ensure that proper metering is installed.”
BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes
frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at
410.394.6966 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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