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The Syracuse Green Data Center: Driving Energy Savings & System Reliability

The Syracuse University Green Data Center is now a reality and has been in successful operation for over three years. The data center, at 6,000 square feet includes an adjacent power plant containing the combined heat and power system. David Blair of GEM Energy, who worked on the systems running the facility, outlines how the innovations deployed save power and increase reliability.

Industry Perspectives

October 23, 2013

6 Min Read
The Syracuse Green Data Center:  Driving Energy Savings & System Reliability
The exterior of the new data center at Syracuse University, which includes $5 million of energy efficient data center technology from IBM.

David Blair, P.E., senior vice president of GEM Energy, directs the design of combined heat and power (CHP/CCHP) projects using gas turbine and advanced technologies including the Syracuse University Green Data Center for which he provided oversight and management of the project team responsible for the development, installation and commissioning of the first hybrid UPS micro turbine tri-generation system in the world.



GEM Energy

Our story begins with two Syracuse University graduates: Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina and IBM Vice President Vijay Lund and the aging and overloaded existing data center on the Syracuse University campus. The goal:  construct a new data center that would demonstrate a 50 percent reduction in energy consumption. The Syracuse University Green Data Center was born.

Such a bold plan needed very talented leadership. First, a partnership developed among Syracuse University, IBM, and NYSERDA. VIP Structures, and Towne Engineering would provide the design. GEM Energy would provide integration of CCHP systems. Capstone Turbine Corporation would supply microturbines and proved to be a key element in the Green Data Center success story. Thermax USA was selected to supply absorption chiller technology.

The Syracuse University Green Data Center is now a reality and has been in successful operation for over three years. The GDC, at 6,000 square feet includes an adjacent power plant containing the CCHP system. (Data Center Knowledge published a photo tour of the facility here.)

Syracuse CCHP System Explained

The data center is powered by twelve (12) Capstone Microturbines, rated 780 kW and configured in two groups of six (6) in an A and B bus arrangement. The Microturbine engine exhaust stream is directed by insulated ductwork into two Thermax absorption chillers. These 150 ton chillers provide cooling water for the data center as a first priority and are interconnected with an adjacent classroom building. Two Cain, HRM’s, rated 4.0 MMBTU/Hr produce hot water for heating the adjacent building. Fuel efficiency exceeds the NYSERDA minimum of 60 percent annually.


Hybrid UPS Turbine Replaces Traditional Solution

Electric power purchased from the utility grid must be quality conditioned for use by the computers and must include back-up power sources to ride through any loss of the utility grid. The traditional solution is to use UPS technology to filter the utility power and to act as a switching point for storage batteries. The storage batteries provide ride-through for a utility grid loss, but must be recharged in one of two ways: by using stationary diesel-engine generators, or by the utility grid.

At the Green Data Center, the traditional solution is replaced by the Microturbine CCHP system. This is possible because of innovation in multiple ways.

  • Invertor Configured Power Electronics: To understand this innovation, it is helpful to first take a look at standard Microturbine invertor technology. Available for more than 15 years, the Capstone MicroTurbine engine, fueled by natural gas, and spinning at 98,000 rpm is TG in the diagram. The generator output is high frequency, alternating current that is converted to direct current at 765 VDC. The DC bus connects the generator to an external battery and the power output invertor, or LCM (Load Control Module). The output current is power conditioned in compliance with IEEE 519.

  • Hybrid UPS: Capstone’s Patented Model C65 Hybrid UPS developed for and first used at the Green Data Center contains all the features of a traditional, double conversion UPS plus a gas turbine engine that is the source of electric power. The second load control module is the innovation: LLCM in the diagram. The Capstone Hybrid UPS provides continuous power to the data center critical bus in three ways: utility source in UPS mode, Microturbine engine in economy mode, and both batteries and Microturbine engine in emergency mode. At the Green Data Center there is no need for a traditional UPS with back-up diesel generator.

Water is 3,400 Times More Efficient Than Air

An IBM innovation, the rear door and side-car heat exchangers cool the air exiting from conventional computer racks using water. The result is quiet and efficient. The CCHP system is the source of chilled water for cooling. Thermal pictures, with doors open and closed, illustrate the magnitude of this cooling improvement.

SU Green Data Center Energy Use: The Bottom Line

In a traditional data center, only 50 percent of the electric power delivered is used by the computers and Power Utilization Effectiveness, or PUE = 2.0. The CCHP system at the Green Data Center is the game changer. First, absorption cooling technology substitutes for electric cooling with a reduction of 27 percent. Second, water replaces air cooling with a reduction of infrastructure that is dramatic. At the Green Data Center, a PUE = 1.28 is the result for three years.

Environmentally Friendly

The power plant consisting of 12 Capstone Hybrid UPS MicroTurbines is environmentally friendly. Compared with traditional grid power generation, a significant reduction in carbon footprint is possible. We breathe easier because of reductions in carbon dioxide by 61 percent and nitrous oxide by 98 percent.

Construction begins - May 2009

Encouraged to explore new ideas, the project team was reminded that the ribbon cutting date would follow in only six months after breaking ground! Some features of the data center included:

  • Buried Conduit contributed to holding the timeline.

  • Our architect included sustainable construction technics in the plans such as prefabricated wall forms. Remaining in place as insulation after pouring concrete achieved cost and time reduction.

  • Capstone Microturbines: Twelve (12) Capstone Model C65 Hybrid UPS Microturbines configured as an A and B bus for reliability.

  • Mechanical Systems: Two exhaust-fired, double effect, absorption chillers by Thermax USA were installed, each rated 150 tons.

  • Storage Battery System: Two 380 VDC storage batteries can deliver 500 kW for 17 minutes.

  • BM Computer Room: Compared with traditional air cooling, the 6,000 square foot data center remains silent as a result of the use of efficient water cooling.

On-time Completion - December 2, 2009

The Green Data Center is a success. The traditional methods and tried-and-true solutions are certainly safe and will not rock the boat. But, remember that we did not get to the moon riding a hot air balloon.

If you are considering a new data center or planning a retrofit to an existing data center, then look to Syracuse University. Visit the campus, speak with the owners, and take time to kick the tires. In this way, you will quickly learn more about the CCHP advantage that includes innovations in energy reduction and reliability improvement.

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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