Investigation of techniques for energy-efficient new-build data centres

Data centres are becoming an increasingly important sector of the Dutch economy, but are also substantial and rapidly growing energy consumers, currently responsible for approximately 1.5% of national electricity use. In recent years a range of technical options have been developed that permit major improvements in the energy efficiency of data centres. 

In this context CE Delft has investigated in-depth a number of options for new-build data centres. All these options limit energy use and are economically and technically feasible. The study was conducted for the Dutch government’s NL Agency in close cooperation with the trade association Nederland ICT and individual data centres, as well as national and local government authorities. 

The study consists of an extensive literature study and entailed interviews with suppliers of energy-efficient techniques. Based on detailed data delivered by these suppliers, model calculations were performed to predict the energy performance at different loading degrees. The results were validated with data centre operators. 

The results show that a high degree of energy efficiency can be achieved. Various combinations of techniques available to this end can deliver EUEs below 1.2. This is a significant step beyond the EUE of 1.3 used as a reference. EUE, Energy Usage Efficiency, is a measure of how energy-efficiently a data centre provides its services. 

A crucial factor in all technology combinations is substantial use of ‘free cooling’, i.e. utilising natural sources of cold. The efficient variants use technology geared to maximising such use. The type of power supply is another key factor, and in this respect modular construction is pivotal. Operational aspects are also important for achieving high efficiencies.

The report is to serve as a basis for guidelines for local government in the framework of environmental permits.