From Cradle to Grave:Optimizing MEP Systems to Reduce Carbon Footprints
November 03, 2010

By Robert Ioanna, Syska Hennessy Group
Christopher Johnston, Syska Hennessy Group

Appeared in Sustainable Facility

According to a 2007 U.S. EPA report, America produces approximately 3.2 billion metric tons of carbon annually, with data centers accounting for as much as 44 million of it.

This rising number has driven the Federal Government and state legislatures toward regulation. California, for example, instituted carbon emissions taxes in 2006, while the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2454: American Clean Energy and Security Act, otherwise known as the Waxman-Markey Climate Change Bill, in 2009. Still waiting on Senate approval, Waxman-Markey seeks to establish a strategic plan to improve overall U.S. energy productivity by at least 2.5 percent before 2012 and to institute a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from covered sources by 83 percent before 2050.

While legislation looms on the horizon, many of today’s data center owners are driven toward energy efficiency to reduce operational costs and showcase corporate environmental stewardship.

The total carbon life of a data center occurs in three main cycles: design/construction, operations and decommissioning (see pie chart). The carbon footprint of the design/construction phase includes the transportation and manpower consumed in site selection and design as well as the energy utilized to construct the facility and its equipment. Data center operations represent the lion’s share of expenditure for a data center (with mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems working 24/7/365 throughout the facility’s life), while decommissioning refers to the carbon footprint involved in the material disassembly and disposal, transportation, and IT equipment demolition at the end of the data center’s usable life.

The first step toward reducing the total carbon footprint of a data center is to attack its largest consumer: operations. Through building performance modeling and innovative design, the MEP engineer can optimize the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems to increase energy efficiency, decrease GHG emissions and ultimately reduce the total carbon life of a data center from cradle to grave.