Data Center with Supercomputer Also Super-Efficient

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NREL unveils high-tech data center for renewable energy research that’s expected to achieve LEED Platinum.

By Candace Pearson

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The ESIF Data Center is the nation's only facility that can conduct integrated megawatt-scale testing needed to pull renewable energy into the grid, yet the building itself consumes relatively little.

Source: SmithGroupJJR

A new research center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) campus in Golden, Colorado, holds a supercomputer and the nation’s only utility-scale grid simulator to test renewable technologies—yet its constant use by approximately 200 scientists won’t come at the price of exorbitant energy consumption. The new $135 million, 182,500 ft2 (16,955 m2) Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) is designed to earn LEED Platinum despite the energy-demanding equipment it houses, according to a press release.

An advanced warm-water cooling system uses heat produced by the petascale (1.2 quadrillion calculations per second at peak performance) supercomputer to heat the building and other areas of campus during the winter months. Energy is also reused by a power integration circuit known as a Research Electrical Distribution Buss (REDB). The system is designed for researchers simulating the grid, but it also provides interconnections between different laboratories in the building so that process and electrical energy drawn for one experiment can be reused for another.

Operable windows, exterior shading devices, and solar-powered fans manage heating loads and enable natural cooling, while skylights provide enough daylight for most lighting to be shut off between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. All told, the building has achieved an energy use intensity (EUI) of 23 kBTU/ft2 (261 kW/m2) annually and a power usage effectiveness rate (PUE, an efficiency measure for data centers) of 1.04. The national average PUE rate for data centers ranges from 1.5 to 2.0.

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September 30, 2013