General Motors recently announced the opening of its newest data center, a green building marvel that the company claims will use 70 percent less electricity than its traditional counter parts. In recognition of its energy efficient achievements, the U.S. Green Building Council recently awarded the Detroit building LEED Gold certification, something fewer than 5 percent of data centers in the U.S. have ever achieved.
The thrill of what we can do with computer technology is always tempered by the fact that every digital gadget and internet-connected gizmo adds to our already immense demand for energy. Data centers, the places where the internet actually lives, are one of the hungriest birds in this nest of energy-sucking monsters. Just one data center can use enough electricity to power 180,000 homes. Data-reliant companies like GM are slowly realizing the high cost of this consumption, however, and working to make data centers more efficient.
GM’s new data hub is located on its Technical Center campus in the Detroit suburb of Warren, Mich. To identify the technologies that would yield the greatest bang for its buck, GM toured facilities owned by major high-tech and electrical companies all over the country. The best ideas were incorporated into the new data center, including:
- A clean back-up energy system that’s powered mechanical fly wheels and a diesel engine. The innovative system, which replaces the battery-based Uninterruptible Power Supply used by virtually all other data centers, reduces emissions, noise pollution and fuel consumption. And because the fly wheel system replaces the equivalent of 12,000 car batteries, GM was able to eliminate the heating and cooling systems normally required to keep the batteries at their optimal temperature.
- In-row cooling that allows the data center to trap heat in a smaller area so less air is moved, reducing electricity consumption. “GM leverages Michigan’s cooler climate by pumping water outside to chill it naturally, allowing the servers’ cooling system to power down three-quarters of the year,” states a press release.
The new data center is GM’s fifth LEED-certified facility and second brownfield project.