Ways to get green and save money

You needn’t run the most energy-efficient, eco-friendly company in the world to make an environmental difference. Here are some areas where companies are saving resources — and saving money.

1. Sunny-side economics: Affordable Internet Services Online Inc. (AISO) operates a small data center using photovoltaic cells that use renewable solar energy. However, that system wouldn’t be cost-effective today, says co-founder and technology manager Phil Nail, because of changes in state tax incentives.

2. Water saver: Highmark Inc. saves 4.9 million gallons of water per year in its 28,000-square-foot Harrisburg, Pa., data center simply by using a water-softening system to reduce the “bleed rate” in its cooling towers. “We’re using 30 percent less water than we were before,” says Mark Wood, director of infrastructure management. In addition, some of the water supplied to the cooling towers comes from rain that’s channeled from the building’s roof into a 100,000-gallon storage tank. The system, which captures about 625,000 gallons of water annually, supplies toilets and urinals in the building. The remainder supplements the cooling system. AISO stores water flushed by its air-conditioning system in underground tanks (about 20 gallons every three hours) and reuses it for landscape irrigation.

3. Lights on: AISO uses solar tubes to bring natural lighting into the data center, reducing lighting costs. The tubes, which are lined with a reflective, polished chrome surface, carry light from the roof.

4. Lights off: The Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly known as Fannie Mae, has trained its staff to turn lights off in its data center in Urbana, Md., and uses sensors as a backup. That saves US$30,000 per month in lighting costs for the 60,000-square-foot data center.

5. Heat deflector: Wells Fargo & Co. is putting a reflective surface on the roofs of its data centers in an effort to keep heat out — and cooling costs down. AISO placed a 4- to 6-in. insulating layer of dirt on its roof to keep the hot California temperatures out. Neither company can quantify any savings yet.

6. Renewable bio energy: Hosted services provider Rackspace Ltd.’s new 65,000-square-foot data center in Slough, England, will receive all of its electricity from a power plant that uses renewable energy. The plant, operated by Slough Heat & Power Ltd., burns wood chips and other biomass materials. “It’s a renewable resource that comes from something you grow rather than something you mine,” says John Engates, chief technology officer.

7. Cogeneration: Terremark Worldwide Inc. is exploring using combined heat and power in a new data center that it’s building in Culpepper, Va. The system uses natural gas-powered turbines from United Technologies Corp. to generate power, and exhausted heat is used by absorption chillers to create a cold water supply for the data center air conditioners. Each unit produces 5,000 tons of cooling. Ben Stewart, vice president of facilities engineering, says that the units cost more than diesel generators, but adds that he can eliminate chillers, which cost $1 million for 300 tons of cooling. However, the prospect of rolling out a technology across the entire data center gives him cold feet. “It’s kind of cutting-edge technology. If we do it, we’ll try it on a smaller site [first],” Stewart says.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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