Summary:

The EPA has just opened up its Energy Star program to data centers, using an efficiency rating system years in the works that’s based on the Power Usage Effectiveness, or PUE, metric.

The most energy efficient data centers can finally join electronics, home appliances and buildings in seeking the government’s Energy Star label. The Environmental Protection Agency announced this morning that stand-alone data centers as well as buildings that house large numbers of data centers can qualify for the label if they rank in the top 25 percent of their peers in the agency’s rating system, which has been in the works for years and is based on the Power Usage Effectiveness, or PUE, metric.

Google has been using PUE, a metric developed by the trade group Green Grid, to support claims that its data centers are some of the most efficient in the computing world. The metric is found by dividing “total facility power” by “IT equipment power,” and as Pedro Hernandez explained recently over on GigaOM Pro (subscription required): “PUE, at its core, is a performance-based measure of how efficiently a data center uses its electricity.”

The new EPA label will require applicants to submit a third-party audit of their energy performance, but the label comes at a time when federal agencies have faced criticism for failing to properly track and audit the Energy Star program. A Department of Energy audit of the Energy Star program found that the Energy Star ratings for some products were “not accurate or verifiable” because of weak oversight by the agency. And congressional auditors found earlier this year that “the Energy Star program was highly vulnerable to fraud,” with an automated system allowing even fake gadgets to win approval for the label.

Data centers are ripe for efficiency improvements, and the Energy Star label could give companies a way to boost their green cred with cost-cutting changes to their data centers. Electricity use makes data centers extremely expensive to run, and according to the EPA, data centers now account for 1.5 percent of total electricity use in the U.S., at a cost of $4.5 billion per year. That amount is set to double within five years, says the EPA, but a 10 percent improvement in U.S. data center efficiency could annually save upwards of 6 billion kilowatt-hours (about equivalent to the power used by some 350,000 homes) and $450 million.

Of course, efficiency is only one piece of the puzzle for greener data centers. As GigaOM Pro curator Derrick Harris has explained, rising demand for computing resources means that “even the most efficiently built data centers with the highest utilization rates,” (doing more work with less servers), will only help “to mitigate, rather than eliminate, harmful emissions.”

To learn more about data center and Internet infrastructure energy use, come to our Structure event on June 23 and 24 in San Francisco.

For more research on green data centers check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Google: Servers Should Be More Like People

Is Software the Key to Green Data Centers?

Report: Green Data Center Design Strategies

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