Construction of new facilities by data center operators has many U.S. regions grappling with massive new demands for electric infrastructure. Space, cooling, and energy-capacity issues faced by existing data centers have compounded the problem. To address these challenges, a nationwide coalition of utilities has been formed to discuss and coordinate energy efficiency programs for the high-tech industry, with a focus on data centers.

San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is leading the coalition formation. “We have developed program and service offerings for the information technology industry, and sharing our knowledge with other utilities will drive energy-savings and environmental benefits more widely in this rapidly expanding market,” says Roland Risser, director of customer energy efficiency for PG&E.

PG&E's program and service offerings for the high-tech sector include financial incentives for customers who pursue energy-efficiency projects in their data centers. According to the company, it was among the first to offer incentives for virtualizations and server consolidation — a program that is prompting customers to remove underused computing equipment using virtualization technology.

Because data centers may use up to 100 times the energy per square foot of typical office space, energy-efficiency programs are crucial. Programs like the ones offered by PG&E can help customers live within their existing data centers as well as limit the energy impact of new ones.

To date, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), Portland, Ore.; TXU Energy, Dallas; Austin Energy, Austin, Texas; New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Albany, N.Y.; and NSTAR, Westwood, Mass., have joined the coalition.

“The Northwest is experiencing substantial growth in data centers, with new facilities recently constructed or announced by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others,” says Stacey Hobart, NEEA manager of corporate marketing and communications. “The electric load represented by these facilities is significant, and it is in everyone's best interest to build-in as much efficiency as possible.”