How the EPA's Energy Star rating system works in the data center

Kathleen Hogan, Director of the Climate Change Partnerships Division of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), discusses the Energy Star rating system. The EPA designed the Energy Star program to help consumers reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, and the agency is applying its program to servers and the data center. Hogan also discusses the potential impact of a carbon cap-and-trade system on the data center.

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How the EPA's Energy Star rating system works in the data center

Mark Fontecchio: Hi, I'm Mark Fontecchio. I'm a reporter at, and today with us we have Kathleen Hogan. She is the Director of the Climate Protection Partnerships division of the United States Environment Protection Agency, also known as the EPA. She's going to talk to us a little bit today about Energy Star. So, Kathleen, could you first start by just explaining what Energy Star does and what kind of products it covers?

Kathleen Hogan: Sure. The Energy Star program is sort of like a 15-year-old program now out there to help people make energy-efficient choices. And that sounds easy, but what it is that we've had to do to give people these energy efficient-type choices is to work to get the Energy Star on about more than 50 products or so, products in 50 categories. So that ranges from your heating and cooling equipment to lighting products in the home, TVs, office equipment, a lot of emerging IT equipment. But Energy Star's really more than that, more than a label on very efficient products. It's also on new homes, on efficient buildings, and more and more on efficient industrial facilities, just trying to give people the tools they need to manage the high efficiency.

Mark Fontecchio: So why does Energy Star care about servers and data centers?

Kathleen Hogan: The EPA designed the Energy Star program to help people choose efficient solutions, really so we can reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. We've got a big issue out there with global climate change. Energy efficiency is the number one solution for addressing climate change. And what that means is you're looking across all aspects of our homes and buildings and industry to find where it is we can very effectively use energy more efficiently and then reduce these emissions of greenhouse gases. If you go and you look at the home or you look in business, one of the growing areas of energy use is IT equipment at the level of the building. And certainly when you trace some of the things we do in today's society, whether it's banking or medical records or whatever, that is being kept in these data centers. We're becoming much more and more of an electronically based world, which is really increasing the growth of data centers. So we're interested in them because they're out there and they're growing, and just really because it's part of our overall economy, and we have to be looking everywhere for efficient solutions.

Mark Fontecchio: Now is the EPA and Energy Star also interested in the emissions that IT can save by preventing paper production, for example, or travel through telecommuting or teleconferencing?

Kathleen Hogan: Yeah, I mean, EPA is interested in figuring out what people need in their day-to-day lives, whether they're at home or at work, to be doing things more efficiently in a way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. And a lot of times that means buying the efficient product, the product with the Energy Star, but it does mean taking a more holistic view of things, as well. You're not trying to push and promote people to choose an efficient product that when you use it has a lower energy bill, if it really took a lot of energy to manufacture that product. So you are trying to be thoughtful about the whole economy-wide use of energy. And I think the data centers and IT aspect of all this is very interesting that way, because you see a number of very important places where IT-type activities or equipment really can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with things we do. One of the examples is telecommuting or teleconferencing. Another area people point to is the smart grid and how we can better optimize our energy systems with the flow of information that IT-related equipment can provide.

Mark Fontecchio: There's been a lot of talk in the data center industry about the potential of the carbon cap-and-trade or carbon tax. Can you talk a little bit about that and how data centers should be thinking about it and starting to possibly plan for it in the next few years?

Kathleen Hogan: Yeah. I think you're seeing a lot of discussion about the need for greenhouse gas reduction targets. One of the forms that, that can take is a national carbon policy, such as cap-and-trade. I think as we move forward that what you'll see from the data center industry is two things. One is as everyone gets focused on what we need to meet these aggressive reductions in greenhouse gases, everybody needs to pay attention to their own carbon footprint. In a lot of cases that means it's the energy that you're using, so it's paying attention to energy use and opportunities to reduce that cost effectively.

Most buildings, industries that we've worked with at the EPA really do have substantial cost-effective reductions they can make in their energy use. They just haven't quite been focused on it, but they are there. We see it over and over, and so I do think cap-and-trade-type policies will shine the spotlight on the need to do that. I think also for the IT industry and data centers it's really an opportunity to tee up how IT is a big part of the solution in moving us toward a much lower carbon economy, because of some of the opportunities that are out there with smart grid and telecommuting, etc. So it's a two-step answer. It's make sure you're reducing your carbon footprint as much as possible, and then let's have as  robust a discussion as we can about what the opportunities are for IT to decarbonize our economy as we move forward.

Mark Fontecchio: Well, Kathleen, thanks for talking to us today, and thank you for listening to our videocast.


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