Utilities Struggling to Provide Electricity to Power-Hungry Data Centers

Jan. 18, 2002

BOULDER, CO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jan. 18, 2002--Electric utilities are struggling to provide service to new power-hungry electronic data centers, which can consume eight to 50 times more electricity per square foot than typical commercial buildings, according to a new series of reports from Platts, the energy information, research, consulting and marketing services business of The McGraw-Hill Companies (NYSE: MHP).

 In many cases, utilities are reluctant to provide the infrastructure required to supply such huge amounts of power, leading a number of planned data facilities to develop their own power sources.

"The reported power capacities of these high-density electronic loads more closely resemble those of large industrial facilities, such as oil refineries and smelters, than capacities of the warehouses that they look like from the outside," states Jay Stein, director of technology assessment and author of the Platts E Source studies.

For example, a 344,000-square-foot data center under construction in Washington State, when complete, will be capable of drawing up to 105 MW -- enough power to support more than 100,000 households.
Utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric, Seattle City Light, Commonwealth Edison, Consolidated Edison and Public Service Electric & Gas are being approached by large data center developers and operators like Exodus, Level 3 Communications, Qwest, Williams Communications, and Globix.
However, Stein notes, "Realistically, data center developers need not request so much power, because in the near future, electronic equipment will be far more efficient than it is today. In fact, there is already more efficient equipment trickling into the market." In the past year, Stein says, Internet servers have come on the market that allow data center operators to pack in eight times as many servers as they are ordinarily able to accommodate, but without pushing up their electric bills.
The study, "Delivering Energy Services to Internet Hotels and Other High-Density Electronic Loads," also reveals the debate between data center developers and utilities as to who will pay for the additional costs associated with outfitting a building with substantially higher power demands. According to Stein, "Utilities don't want to pay for the hardware required to operate a data center, yet the data center developers feel it is their right as paying end-users of electricity to receive these upgrades as part of their general service."

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