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Data center shaves 10% off yearly electric bill

San Francisco-based 365 Main data center saved $70,000 off its annual electrici bill by participating in PG&E's Critical Peak Pricing program.

The company 365 Main Inc. recently got a pat on the back from Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) for reducing power consumption at its San Francisco data center.

The San Francisco, Calif.-based data center operator participated in PG&E's Critical Peak Pricing (CPP) program, designed to curtail power usage during critical peak days to lower the risk of an energy emergency.

"Power is at the forefront of data center discussions at this time," said Miles Kelly, vice president of marketing and strategy for 365 Main. "In the 1990s, connectivity was the biggest concern. Now it's whether we have enough power, and the cost of that power, because data centers have become so dense."

The data center in San Francisco targeted for power savings is 217,000-square feet with 90,000-square feet of raised floor and is packed full of servers, Kelly said.

PG&E reports 365 Main's San Francisco data center saved $70,000 in utility costs through its participation in CPP in 2006 -- about a 10% cost reduction, Kelly said.

Energy-efficient generator testing
The company began its energy-saving program by conducting energy audits to reduce power consumption during the peak summer months, updating lighting controls and installing more efficient motor controllers in its air-conditioning system.

But the most significant power reduction was attributed to an innovative testing procedure for the building's backup generators. The San Francisco data center houses ten 2.1 megawatt generators manufactured by Hitec Power Solutions. These generators, known as Continuous Power System (CPS) generators, run 24 hours a day to deliver power if there is an outage.

In the past, 365 Main would test its Hitec generator once a month by running each of the 3,000 horsepower diesel engines for two hours. By replacing a dated, inefficient generator-testing procedure, 365 Main reduced utility power consumption by as much as 12.5% during monthly tests.

Instead of plugging the generators into load banks -- eight-foot heating coils traditionally used, drawing immense amounts of power -- Kelly said the company figured out a way to test the generators using existing power.

The compromise in reducing power usage was simply the time it took to find an innovative way to do things, Kelly said.

"We did not have to retrofit any equipment, we simply changed the way we operated our existing equipment," Kelly said.

Power is at the forefront of data center discussions at this time...In the 1990s, connectivity was the biggest concern. Now it's whether we have enough power, and the cost of that power...
Miles Kelly
vice president of marketing and strategy for 365 Main.

The company made the testing methodology available to PG&E to share with other data center providers that want to learn how to reduce data center power consumption.

The issue of reducing power consumption within data centers is gaining national attention. Last May the Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. (SPEC), a nonprofit corporation that establishes, maintains and endorses a standardized set of benchmarks applied to high-performance computers, formed a committee to develop comprehensive and unbiased server energy-efficiency standards. In July, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 417 to 4 in favor of a bill that calls for a six-month Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on data center efficiency.

"There is concern that data centers are too taxing on power grids. It is everyone's responsibility to prevent that," Kelly said.

How CPP works
PG&E customers in the CPP program receive financial incentives to reduce or shift their energy usage away during peak periods.

PG&E provides seasonal discounts to single-building customers that volunteer to reduce or shift their energy usage down during peak periods spanning May 1 through Oct. 31.

CPP events include: • Special alerts issued by the California Independent System Operator • Conditions of high-forecasted California spot market power prices • Testing /evaluation periods

CPP events are generally triggered by temperature, but may also be activated by PG&E as warranted by extreme system conditions. PG&E customers that belong to the CPP program are given financial incentives to reduce or shift their energy usage away from peak periods during CPP events. During a CPP event, electric rates for these customers are higher than average during peak hours between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m., but electric rates are discounted during the peak and partial-peak periods during the summer.

PG&E notifies CPP participants by 12 p.m. the day before a CPP event is to be called.

PG&E also recently announced it is leading the formation of a national utilities coalition to coordinate energy-efficiency programs for the high tech sector. The coalition will focus on improving energy efficiency in new and existing data centers which, according to PG&E, can use up to 100 times the energy per square foot of typical office space.

PG&E spends $950 million a year on power and is trying to reduce usage, said Mark Bramfitt, supervisor of the customer energy efficiency program for PG&E.

Data centers are the target of power savings since these facilities use at least 2% of the total power consumed in PG&E's region, California, he said in a recent interview.

PG&E also approved a plan in November to reimburse up to 50% of the costs of a server consolidation projects, including software, hardware and consulting, up to a maximum of $4 million per customer.

The company has committed $1 billion in energy-efficiency programs for the 2006 to 2008 time period.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Bridget Botelho, News Writer

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