General Electric’s energy division was its break in the clouds last week offering a spot of sunshine amidst grim earnings. GE is continuing that energy push in 2009 with a major smart meter marketing campaign (Super Bowl!), and on Monday touting a more unusual area: energy-efficient data center products. GE says it has made one of its own data centers more energy efficient using about 30 GE products, and — surprise, surprise — the conglomerate says those services and products are for sale for data center developers.
Frankly I never thought of GE as a company that needs a lot of computing power, but GE’s chief technology officer, Greg Simpson, explained to me that GE has at least five large data centers it owns, and the company uses the equivalent of hundreds of data centers worth of computing power if you consider shared space in third party-owned data centers as well as distributed computing gear in GE facilities. GE needs that much computing for activities like employee communication and services, engineers using software to develop products, and tracking items in the supply chain.
All that computing power means energy-related costs for GE, and cutting costs is particularly important in the economic downturn. GE decided to focus first on a data center in Ohio, which has 29,000 square feet of raised floor, 3,800 IT systems, and consumes 24 million kWh of power annually. For the retrofit GE installed more than 30 products — from energy monitoring software, to energy efficient lighting, to a reverse osmosis water system.
The result, GE says, is an 11 percent reduction in the annual energy used to cool the data center, a savings of 2-3 million gallons of water per year, and a 50 percent reduction of the use of chemicals to treat the water. Before the retrofit the data center was a moderate power hog that had a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) score of 1.75. The metric, which measures the energy efficiency of data centers, is monitored by The Green Grid organization — a PUE of 1 is excellent, and PUE of 2 is not so good. Simpson says GE hasn’t determined the new center’s PUE metric just yet because it’s too new, but it will likely be considerably better.
In addition to the energy efficiency and water products, Simpson says GE is working a new kind of next generation battery beyond lead acid that will be used as a backup power system for data centers (data centers have a power source ready to switch on instantaneously in case there’s a power outage). Other data center builders like Sun are turning to flywheels — basically spinning discs that store kinetic energy — as backup power supply because they have less hazardous waste compared to lead acid batteries.
Simpson says GE plans to roll out the data center energy efficiency products to the rest of its data centers in the next few years, and the products are now available to data center builders. Making data centers more energy efficient will be a big theme this week, as the Green Grid (the organization behind the PUE metric) is hosting its second annual technical forum. Stay tuned for news from the Green Grid group and member companies like HP.
Photo of Greg Simpson, CTO GE, provided by GE.