Q&A: Green Data Centers

David Ibarra is an expert in process controls and automation systems. (Photo by Everett Rosette)
Facebook’s facilities feature ductless evaporative cooling/humidification systems, enabling cooling at a lower cost and with less energy consumption than traditional chilled-water systems. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

In 2011, 30 percent of DPR’s $2.1 billion revenue was in data center projects. Currently, DPR has more than 30 data center projects in the works, either in preconstruction or under construction, totaling more than 1.8 million sq. ft.

David Ibarra is an expert in process controls and automation systems. With 22 years of experience as an electrical engineer, he now serves as mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) manager and advanced technology-mission critical core market leader for DPR. Throughout his career, Ibarra has worked on more than $1 billion of data center projects for such clients as Facebook, T-Mobile, Digital Realty Trust, Yahoo!, Intuit and Fortune Data Centers. Ibarra has also been selected by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)’s LEED® Steering Committee for the Datacenter Adaptation Working Group and will be involved in making recommendations to change existing LEED credits specific to data centers. The following are his green data center insights:

When and why did customers start pushing for greener data centers?
In response to the original web boom of the 1990s, the amount of data centers being built grew tremendously in a short amount of time. After the dot-com crash in the early 2000s, the industry spent some time studying the lessons learned and initiated some of the first steps to improve the existing facilities by targeting electrical power consumption. Around 2005, enterprises began to improve their facilities by focusing on the goal of reducing the “power bill” and by using USGBC LEED initiatives as a way of evaluating new projects from a green aspect. Starting around 2008, efforts became concentrated on improving cooling systems to mitigate power and water consumption.

Is there an internal initiative within DPR to “green” data center design, construction and operations?
DPR’s greenBook, a custom application, helps teams determine which sustainability measures make the most sense for a specific project’s goals. Using greenBook, DPR provides detailed cost data and identifies the “break-even” point, based on estimated design and construction costs and anticipated operational savings.

Life cycle analysis plays an important role in the decision-making process. DPR has the capability to perform life cycle costing analysis, or total cost of ownership (TCO), on all aspects of building systems. Our in-house mechanical and electrical estimators are called on frequently to evaluate such options as the use of primary power, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system equipment, and lighting systems. The analysis takes into account power efficiencies and rebates to evaluate the associated payback periods. To meet client-required TCO goals, we use industry indicators like power usage effectiveness (PUE), water usage effectiveness (WUE) and carbon usage effectiveness (CUE) to benchmark the systems and achieve a “best value” selection.

What is DPR doing to reduce the carbon footprint of data centers, both in design and construction and operations?
Using industry-wide indicators, DPR analyzes all systems and explores new technologies as a whole, looking at more than just reducing cost but integrating the efficiency perspective outside of just a quick payback. Other efforts, such as establishing building block models, allow for “just what is needed” procurement to eliminate material waste.

From a jobsite perspective, our goal is to recycle a minimum of 75 percent of the waste generated by construction and demolition. To reach this goal, all trades are required to reduce waste and recycle materials in accordance with our waste management plan. Our subcontractors follow DPR’s recommended handling procedures and provide documentation to verify material reuse, recycling and disposal.

Is modularization becoming more popular?
Modular construction or modular systems (or pre-assembled systems) are here to stay. Data center customers are pressured by the needs of the market; just-in-time delivery is essential for a company looking to be efficient. Advantages of modularization include ease of replication and standardization as well as the possibility of lower cost and shorter schedule, when done properly. The main disadvantage is assuming that modularization is a silver bullet. Without a high-performing team, modular costs and schedules can inflate. The application has to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

What’s the ideal data center project?
There will be a team who are all stakeholders, engaged from day one and contributing at all stages of the project to make real-time decisions. Project teams should attempt to minimize the amount of work performed in the field and include new technologies or a combination of existing technologies that help raise the bar in minimizing power and water consumption and carbon emissions.