Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Nokia, Digital Realty Trust, Dupont Fabros vs. ASHRAE standard 90.1 requirement for economizers limits innovation - comment to be heard

Google's Public Policy blog has a post with some of the most innovative data center operators.

Chris Crosby, Senior Vice President, Digital Realty Trust
Hossein Fateh, President and Chief Executive Officer, Dupont Fabros Technology
James Hamilton, Vice President and Distinguished Engineer, Amazon
Urs Hoelzle, Senior Vice President, Operations and Google Fellow, Google
Mike Manos, Vice President, Service Operations, Nokia
Kevin Timmons, General Manager, Datacenter Services, Microsoft

This collection and probably many others are appealing to ASHRAE to change the requirement for economizers.

Unfortunately, the proposed ASHRAE standard is far too prescriptive. Instead of setting a required level of efficiency for the cooling system as a whole, the standard dictates which types of cooling methods must be used. For example, the standard requires data centers to use economizers — systems that use ambient air for cooling. In many cases, economizers are a great way to cool a data center (in fact, many of our companies' data centers use them extensively), but simply requiring their use doesn’t guarantee an efficient system, and they may not be the best choice. Future cooling methods may achieve the same or better results without the use of economizers altogether. An efficiency standard should not prohibit such innovation.

I know many of these above people and thanks to a friend they forwarded me this link to Google's blog post, I speculated on what drove the economizer requirement:

  1. Without talking to anyone, one assumption is this group who are active in ASHRAE brought up the energy efficiency issue early on, and ASHRAE stakeholders, most likely vendors who make economizers saw an opportunity to make specific equipment a requirement of energy efficiency data centers.  I could be wrong, but it would explain why an organization who sets standards would choose to specify equipment instead of performance.

  2. In many established data center organizations like financials, economizers are/were unacceptable in data centers a few years back.  So, is the move to establish economizers a reaction to those who refused to use economizers for energy efficient cooling.

  3. The ASHRAE consulting community sees a need for their services to meet ASHRAE's economizer requirement.  For example, if in a given area there are X number of hours a year that are available for running economizers, does the economizer need to be run for a specific %.  Hire an ASHRAE consultant to interpret the standard.  I sure can't.

The data center group above proposes the following as a better update to the ASHRAE standard.

Thus, we believe that an overall data center-level cooling system efficiency standard needs to replace the proposed prescriptive approach to allow data center innovation to continue. The standard should set an aggressive target for the maximum amount of energy used by a data center for overhead functions like cooling. In fact, a similar approach is already being adopted in the industry. In a recent statement, data center industry leaders agreed that Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) is the preferred metric for measuring data center efficiency. And the EPA Energy Star program already uses this method for data centers. As leaders in the data center industry, we are committed to aggressive energy efficiency improvements, but we need standards that let us continue to innovate while meeting (and, hopefully, exceeding) a baseline efficiency requirement set by the ASHRAE standard.

It doesn't make any sense that all data centers built to ASHRAE's standards have to use economizers. If you choose to have a waterfront data center and could use the body of water as a heat sink for your cooling, ASHRAE wouldn't allow it or would they?

The public comment period is open until April 19.  If you disagree with ASHRAE's economizer requirement comment on this blog or Google's blog post.

I was able to talk to Google's Chris Malone on this topic after I wrote the above.  The main concern Google has is if you are trying to be innovative in energy efficiency the last thing you want is a barrier saying you have to use a particular technology.

In other words, the standard should set the required efficiency without prescribing the specific technologies to accomplish that goal. That’s how many efficiency standards work; for example, fuel efficiency standards for cars specify how much gas a car can consume per mile of driving but not what engine to use.

Imagine if MPG numbers were mandated by use of hybrid, diesel, or turbocharger.  It is obvious that the most innovative MPG is going to come from those who have the freedom to use any technology.

You should soon see other data center bloggers write on this issue.  If you think this is wrong comment on the Google Blog post or one of the others.