Data center goes off-grid, is research test bed

Data center goes off-grid, is research test bed

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse University’s Green Data Center (SUGDC), a 12,000-sq.ft. facility, created by the university and IBM, opened December 2009 and is registered to receive U.S. Green Building Council LEED Silver certification.

The SUGDC has three roles: It is the university’s primary production data center; it is a demonstration of the technology utilized in the building; and it is a research test bed for future innovations.

According to Lawrence Hopkins, president of Erie Mechanical Contractors Inc., the firm that installed the mechanical systems, the concept of building a data center with its own power source and the ability to provide additional power for the campus grid, using natural gas fired turbines having a by-product of hot water heat created by the heat from discharge flue gases, makes this a completely self-sufficient energy facility.

Already regarded as on of the greenest data centers in operation — it is expected to use 50% less energy than a typical computer center — the SUGDC can operate completely off-grid and features an on-site tri-generation system with natural gas-fueled microturbines, by Capstone Microturbine Corp., to generate all the electricity for the center and cooling for computer servers.

IBM and SU created a liquid cooling system that uses Thermax absorption chillers to convert the exhaust heat from the microturbines into chilled water to cool the data center's servers and 621 Skytop, the adjacent building. During the winter, when 621 Skytop needs hot water for space conditioning, absorption chillers are partially bypassed and the exhaust is routed through Cain heat exchangers to make hot water to heat the building.

Twelve Capstone Hybrid UPS microturbines produce electricity, heating and cooling, all from a single burn of natural gas, and the absorption chillers, with no moving parts except the water pumps, produce three times the cooling needed for the SUGDC.

“The SUGDC will be thermally driven, meaning the microturbines are operated to satisfy the connected heating and cooling loads of the SUGDC and the neighboring building we are thermally connected to via chilled and hot water,” explained Sam Cosamano, HVAC engineer for the SUGDC project and current president of IPE:Engineering, a sister company of VIP Structures, an integrated design-build firm. “We do this to ensure the most efficient and economical operation of the system. We anticipate operating off the grid during summer and winter months. During shoulder seasons we'll operate either partially on the grid or completely off, depending on natural gas and electricity prices.”

With more conventional absorption chillers, waste heat from the microturbines would be converted to hot water and used to make chilled water.

“When going this route, the hot water temperatures only reach about 220ºF, which is considered a low grade of heat,” said Cosamano. “The absorption process works much better with a high grade of heat. The Thermax chillers used at the SUGDC can accept the microturbines products of combustion (approximately 550ºF) directly.”

Also utilized in the SUGDC are Cain heat exchangers; an uninterrupted power supply, consisting of 44-tons of sealed batteries that provide backup power; and switchgear and other equipment, directing electric power supplied to the data center.

Cain heat exchangers accept the products of combustion directly, and any heat needed within the data center or the adjacent building is generated by the heat exchangers as opposed to burning additional fuel.

The neighboring building has central station air handling units that were piped with chilled water from a roof-mounted air-cooled chiller, but now the GDC’s absorption chillers provide the chilled water needed to cool the building.

“The air-cooled chiller, no longer needed under normal conditions, has been connected in such a way that it can be used as a backup to the SUGDC if a failure were to occur,” explained Cosamano. “The adjacent building also receives heat via hot water piping from the data center’s Cain heat exchangers. Piping is connected to an existing perimeter hot water heating loop and to a domestic hot water heating system; if the GDC’s waste heat is not enough to satisfy the adjacent buildings needs, the existing systems supplement as required.”

The project also incorporates a direct current (DC) power distribution system. In a typical data center, alternating current (AC) electricity is delivered by a central power plant through the local utility's electric grid. Before this power actually gets to the servers, several steps of conversion are made resulting in substantial losses. By directly generating DC power on site, transmission and conversion losses are eliminated.

Installation of the project’s mechanical systems was completed in seven months, according to Hopkins.

“The schedule was tight, requiring many hours of overtime to complete the project within the schedule,” said Hopkins. “In addition, because this building was a new concept and design, many of the questions which came up during the construction process didn’t always have answers and would require some research to be solved. This in conjunction with the quick construction pace made it unique.

“What I found amazing was the team effort that all the trades exhibited during the construction process that made all the changes in work scopes and issues which arose during the project easily achievable.”

Project funding

IBM has provided more than $5 million in equipment, design services and support to the GDC project, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) contributed $2 million to the project.

New York Senator David Valesky (D-49th District) announced in December 2009 that he secured $500,000 in additional funding from the New York Senate.

"The Green Data Center is a smart investment," said Valesky. "By partnering with public and private organizations, Syracuse University will set a great example and provide much-needed resources for companies and organizations that are looking to reduce both IT costs and their carbon footprint."

Syracuse University has a goal to become carbon neutral by 2040.

"Syracuse University's new data center, with the assistance of New York-based IBM, will be a model of energy efficiency for New York and the world," said Francis J. Murray, president and chief executive officer of NYSERDA. "The collegiate, corporate and governmental partnership involved in this project showcases New York's leadership in developing cutting-edge energy technologies and represents an important step forward in reaching Gov. David Paterson's ambitious goals for reducing our energy consumption and improving our environment."

TAGS: Green