Insight and analysis on the data center space from industry thought leaders.

What is Energy Star for Data Centers?

Ron Vokun of Gray Construction, in his continuing series on green data centers, covers the pros and cons of Energy Star for Data Centers and concludes with some discussion of which certification to pursue.

Industry Perspectives

August 27, 2012

5 Min Read
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is Mission Critical Market Leader, Western Region, at JE Dunn Construction. Ron was previously Director of Mission Critical for Gray Construction and also served in leadership roles with Qwest Communications and Aerie Networks. You can find him on Twitter at @RonVokoun.

Ron Vokoun, Gray


JE Dunn

During the last few years, sustainable building certifications have been growing in popularity. Quite a few data center operators have worked to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Certifications and/or the EPA’s Energy Star for Data Centers. Still, other data center operators remain on the sidelines. To help those who are still unclear on the differences and the pros and cons, I am writing to outline the pros and cons of green certifications. Previously, I described LEED certifications. This column covers the pros and cons of Energy Star for Data Centers and concludes with some discussion of which certification to pursue.

Energy Star for Data Centers

Energy Star for Data Centers is part of a greater joint initiative by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy called the National Data Center Energy Efficiency Information Program. It is a results-based independent certification that assesses how efficiently a building uses energy similar to other buildings.

The guiding principles of Energy Star for Data Centers were established in January of 2010 by a group of data center industry leaders.

The guiding principles of Energy Star for Data Centers are fairly simple in nature:

  • PUE was established as the standard metric.

  • Established where to measure IT energy consumption for PUE calculation and cited that the industry should progressively improve measurement capabilities moving forward.

  • Defined total energy for use in PUE calculation.

In order to define data center energy efficiency baseline standards, data from 120 data centers was collected from late 2007 to summer 2009. This formed the initial data set against which certification is measured.

Energy Star for Data Centers Certification Process

The process to obtain the Energy Star Certification is fairly straightforward and involves gathering information that many data centers are already tracking. The Energy Star for Data Centers program uses and provides an online reporting tool - Portfolio Manager. This tool takes energy related data and provides a rating based upon a 1-100 energy performance scale. A score of 75 or higher means that you are in the top 25% of data centers for energy efficiency.

The following requirements must be met for Energy Star for Data Centers certification:

  • Over 50% of the building’s gross area must be used for data center purposes.

  • Each space must meet certain minimum and maximum thresholds for key operating characteristics.

  • Energy consumption data for IT loads and the total building must be gathered in kilowatt-hours for 11 consecutive months for all active meters. This data must yield a score of 75 or higher in the Portfolio Manager to qualify.

Documentation of the above requirements must be professionally verified (stamped) and submitted for certification. There are no fees for certification. The certification is awarded for a specific year and must be renewed annually.

Pros of Energy Star for Data Centers

The benefits of Energy Star for Data Centers are many, including:

  • Data Center Specific: Unlike LEED, this is focused on data centers.

  • Free! There is no out-of-pocket hard cost to certify or renew your Energy Star for Data Centers designation.

  • Energy Efficiency Focused: Focuses on energy efficiency related items that have a high return on investment for owners, operators and end-users.

  • Lower Operational Costs: Energy Star buildings typically use 35% less energy and cost $0.50 per square foot less to operate than their comparison buildings according to the EPA.

  • Validation of Building Performance: A top tier PUE will result in operational savings through reduced energy use.

  • Higher Revenue: Evidence suggests that higher lease rates can be charged and higher occupancy rates are common - as is similar with LEED.

  • Marketing/Branding: The Energy Star program is widely recognized. Perhaps not to the same extend in the building community as LEED, but it still carries great value.

Cons of Energy Star for Data Centers

As can be expected, there are also some drawbacks to the Energy Star for Data Centers program such as:

  • Annual Renewal: Must be renewed yearly. Although it’s not a difficult process, it is another task for already busy data center professionals.

  • Lack of geographic differentiation: While energy consumption is not significantly different geographically, there are greater opportunities for free cooling in certain areas depending on your operating parameters. Greater usage of free cooling will result in a lower PUE, and therefore a higher energy efficiency rating and better chance at gaining the Energy Star rating.

  • Data Gathering Period: Requires 11 months of continuous operation to gather the information required to submit for certification making it impossible to open a new data center with the rating.

  • Energy Efficiency Focused: Focuses only on energy efficiency. While many would call this a benefit, other more environmentally oriented people might say it’s a drawback.

Energy Star or LEED? The Winner Is. . .

If you had to choose to pursue only one of these certifications, which one should you choose? It depends. You must know your audience and/or target customers.

If your goal is operational savings, then you should pursue Energy Star for Data Centers. Its focus lies only in the savings of energy. If your goal is a well-rounded sustainability program, LEED Certification will go farther toward that end.

I have also heard a data center operator say that the only reason they obtained LEED Certification is because their marketing department told them to. I would agree that LEED has a broader reach from a marketing perspective, but both have great value.

There is also no reason why you can’t pursue both as RagingWire has done in their California data center. In order to receive the most marketing value from your certification, make sure it aligns with your brand strategy and consider PR and/or advertising campaigns to leverage it appropriately.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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