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LEED for data centers addresses unique challenges

Data centers are huge energy users with very few occupants; in some cases, data centers actually use as much energy as a small town.

Because of their unique project type, data centers need a unique green building standard, says the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC announced LEED for Data Centers as part of LEED v4, which is expected to be approved later this year.

"By bringing data centers into the suite of LEED rating systems, we're removing barriers so that even more data facilities can participate in LEED and build sustainably," says a USGBC spokesperson. “Whereas a typical building is designed to meet heating and cooling needs for occupant comfort, a data center must provide massive cooling power for its servers," among other differences that make data centers unique.

But before that, data centers are getting a jump on certification. Recently USGBC has experienced a surge in LEED-certified data centers in the United States. The latest count shows 6 data centers are certified, the lowest LEED level. The Silver level has 23 data centers; 32 have achieved Gold status; and 8 are Platinum, the highest LEED level. Among these data centers are such well known corporate entities as Facebook, Yahoo!, Internap and QTS.

Facebook’s first energy efficient, LEED Gold data center in Prineville, Ore., was designed from grid to gates with energy conservation as its focus. The result is a data center that requires 52 percent less energy to operate than a comparable facility built to code requirements, according to Facebook.

The Prineville data center uses 100 percent outside air evaporative cooling, with no cooling towers or chillers. Custom servers use 38 percent less energy and operate at higher temperatures, reducing mechanical cooling needs. The low energy design extracts cool outside air from the atmosphere where it is cooled further by evaporation. According to USGBC, Facebook's Prineville facility uses 70 percent less water for cooling purposes than an average data center.

Water use is also a key target area for data centers, if the facility utilizes water for cooling, notes USGBC. These specific building needs are built in to the data center adaption for LEED.

Apple’s LEED Platinum data center in Maiden, N.C., plans to run operations with a high percentage of renewable energy. To that end, Apple is building its own solar array and fuel cell installation.

Along with real time power monitoring and analytics during operations, the Maiden data center features a chilled water storage system that improves chiller efficiency by transferring 10,400 kWh of electricity consumption from peak to off-peak hours daily. Outside air cooling through a waterside economizer operation, along with water storage, allows the chillers to be turned off more than 75 percent of the time.

Cold air containment pods with variable speed fans are controlled to match exactly airflow to server requirements. Power in the data center also is distributed at higher voltages, increasing efficiency by reducing power loss.

Construction processes for Apple's North Carolina data center used 14 percent recycled materials, diverted 93 percent of construction waste from landfills and purchased 41 percent of materials within 500 miles of the Maiden site.

Like LEED rating system adaptations for other market segments, the data center adaptations were reviewed by market leaders who owned, designed or operated data centers to make sure the LEED requirements identified their unique needs and made sure those needs were addressed appropriately.

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