Data Centre Solutions feature: Finding your way through the maze of energy efficiency legislation

It is well reported that data centres face increasing pressures to be energy efficient as the threat looms over us about UK power shortages. But at times it feels like there are calls from all directions driving data centres to be ‘energy efficient’ – from the European Commission Climate Action’s “20-20-20” targets to the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s ESOS (Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme).  

Here, Leo Craig, managing director at Riello UPS guides data centre managers through what can feel like a myriad of legislation and voluntary schemes. What should data centre managers consider to ensure they comply and what penalties could they face otherwise? What are the UPS technologies and trends in the industry which are helping to ensure compliance? 

Driving a low carbon economy  

The European Commission on Climate Action has a number of key targets to hit by 2020 - a 20 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20 per cent increase in energy efficiency and for 20 per cent of total energy consumption to come from renewable energy. The key legislation behind this is the EU directive ‘2012/27/EU’ which will drive progress towards the EU’s target by getting member states to set non-binding energy saving targets. The UK has set its indicative national energy efficiency target of 129.2 Million Tonnes of Oil Equivalent (MTOE) which would amount to an 18 per cent reduction from 2007. All parties must comply with this directive by September 2016. 

The ultimate aim is to turn Europe into a highly energy efficient and low carbon economy, and it has its sights set high with hopes that there could be an 80 to 95 per cent overall cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. So how does this play out in terms of schemes, both mandatory and voluntary to help the EU achieve these targets? 

The essentials of energy schemes… 

In 2007, data centres in Western Europe alone used an enormous 56 TWh of power and this figure is likely to almost double to 104 TWh by 2020. Responding directly to this increased energy consumption, the European Commission has created the ‘Code of Conduct for Energy Efficiency in aDataCentre’. The code aims to inform and stimulate data centre operators and owners to cost effectively reduce energy consumption without affecting the mission critical function of data centres. It aims to achieve this by improving understanding of energy demand within the data centre, raising awareness, and recommending energy efficient best practice and targets. 

Currently a voluntary initiative (although it could well form the basis of legislation in future), the code aims to bring stakeholders together and parties are expected to follow the code and abide by a set of agreed commitments. The ultimate aim of the code according to Andy Lawrence, a research director of eco-efficient IT at 451 Research Group, is to drive data centre infrastructure efficiency (DCiE) from its current levels of 50 per cent or less at most sites to the 80 per cent mark.  

 Similarly, the Data Centre Alliance (DCA) has introduced a new voluntary certification scheme, which aims to provide the industry with a clear set of criteria designed to embrace existing codes and standards of best practice to assess the quality and resilience of a facility. The scheme focuses around four main areas to assess resilience class, site physical security, energy efficiency and operational professionalism. Gaining this certification shows internal and external customers that your data centre has been audited by experts, has a clear goal and strategy for reliability and energy efficiency and the correct expertise and staff resources deployed to support and maintain these strategies. Although not compulsory, the scheme provides a trusted mark of quality, verification of compliance and improved clarity for buyers. 

 While the above schemes are (for now at least) voluntary, one mandatory scheme which will take effect from December this year is the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme(ESOS). This was introduced by the UK government in response to the EU Efficiency Directive. The scheme obligates large companies to have four yearly energy audits from which detailed reports on energy use and the efficiency of their organisation will be produced. ESOS will affect companies with more than 250 employees or companies with fewer than 250 companies but with an annual turnover exceeding €50m/£40million. Failure to comply with ESOS could result in fines up to £50,000 and / or an additional fine of £40,000 in daily penalties – way more expensive than an audit. Companies which do not comply will also be publicly named by the Environment Agency. Obligated businesses will be required to carry out this assessment and reporting process in each four year compliance period, ending on 5th December 2019, 2023, 2027 and so on.  

 It is worth being aware that if a company is approved to the energy management standard, ISO 50001, then they do not need to comply or take any actions under ESOS or need ESOS audits. However, they still need to register with ESOS.  



UPS technology and trends  



Whilst it is easy to update to the latest UPS with the highest efficiency and change or upgrade the cooling system, this is not the key to an efficient data centre. Instead, getting a base line on where the energy is being used should be the starting point. This means monitoring the power used and the key temperature and humidity readings across the data centre. The ideal is to install a DCIM monitoring system that oversees the key power users supporting the data centre such as the UPS, computer room air conditioners (CRAC) and computer room air handlers (CRAH). This monitors the performance of the cooling system by looking at the temperature of the air entering the server racks and the return temperature to the CRAC. Simple monitoring of just these two parameters enables the data centre manager to ensure that the equipment is actually performing efficiently and that the flow of cooling around the data centre is where it should be and not bypassing the server racks and returning straight to the CRAC.   


Simple things within the data centre environment can make the biggest difference, such as ensuring that blanking plates remain in place within the server racks to stop bypass airflow. There should also be control on cabling within data centres to ensure there are no airflow pinch points due to legacy cables not being removed and new cabling simply put over the top. It’s the ‘low hanging fruit’ that is simple and cheap to do which can result in the greatest savings.  


Our energy future 


Before long, businesses will not have a choice when it comes to being environmentally responsible as it will become legally binding. But this should not be a negative – after all, once you make savings they go straight to the bottom line and stay there, year after year. Even if the return on some measures may not seem overly impressive at first, it is worth sticking with it. As more and more businesses sit up and take notice of energy efficiency measures, data centres will become more effective overall and provide that essential infrastructure to back-up the increasing amount of data in the world.