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Data center energy-efficiency projects richly rewarded with utility rebates

Data center managers say participation in data center energy-efficiency projects as part of utility rebate programs have paid them well.

Data center managers striving to improve energy efficiency and save money should put a call into their local utility company to see wheher it can help them increase savings.

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That is the message from two data center managers at the Uptime Institute's conference in New York this week. Neither eBay nor Kaiser Permanente would say exactly how much they've received from their local utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, but a reasonable estimate is that it's in the millions of dollars.

Many utility companies across the country offer incentive and rebate programs for data centers if they can show that a project will return power to a utility. Pacific Gas & Electric in the Bay Area pioneered the practice, and now leads a coalition of about 35 utility companies that share information and look for ways to save money by giving these rebates to data centers.

"It seems odd, but my job is to pay people to use less of our product," said Mark Bramfitt, PG&E's supervisor of the customer energy efficiency program for the high-tech market. "In the end, it's cheaper for us to pay companies to reduce their demand than it is for us to have to go out and purchase resources."

Rebates to 'do the right thing'
PG&E has about 25 different programs designed to return money to data center customers. For example, the company has said it will reimburse customers up to $4 million for a server consolidation and virtualization project alone. Last year, Bramfitt said, they were about to pay an unnamed customer $1.4 million for economizers. So the opportunities to save hard dollars are there..

To earn its rebate, eBay has completed several energy-efficiency programs, including purchasing economizers, installing solar panels on all the roofs of its buildings in its San Jose campus, and doing a simple tech refresh, said Olivier Sanche, the senior director of data center services at eBay..

Sanche said the biggest project probably was the tech refresh. After replacing all its old IT gear with new resources, Sanche said eBaby reduced 1 MW of power..

"The incentives help us do the right thing because the money helps," Sanche said. "Would we be doing some of these things without the incentives? Probably yes. But this helps the projects happen quicker.".

Steven Press, the executive director of data center facilities at Kaiser Permanente, said utility companies should educate data center professionals about data center efficiency and their programs. Press lauded PG&E for holding classes, to which he sends some members of his data center staff..

Kaiser Permanente takes part in a demand-response program at PG&E. If a heat wave, for example, strains the grid PG&E can ask Kaiser to reduce its energy consumption, which is usually done in Kaiser's case by switching loads to another data center under a different utility's coverage area. Because it takes part in the program, Press said Kaiser get a lower overall electric rate, while PG&E gets the spare capacity so it doesn't have to go out and pay top dollar for power on the open market.
"There are two kinds of green: the green dollars you can save, and the green resources you can save," he said.

This kind of demand-response program isn't for everyone. Sanche said eBay does not take part in it mainly because of "mentalities within the company" about reducing their consumption on demand..

"It is something I'm looking to do in the long term," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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