Data Center HVAC Design Considerations
October 26, 2015
Data centers today not only require protection from the elements, but also need to be designed to save energy as it is estimated they consume about 1.5 percent of all total demand. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, data centers are one of the largest and fastest growing consumers of electricity in the United States. In the U.S in 2013 three million computer rooms used enough electricity to match the annual output of 34 large coal-fired power plants. Annual consumption is projected to increase by roughly 47 billion kilowatt-hours by 2020. The NRDC recommends that best-practice efficiency behaviours across the data center industry need to be adopted as demand rises to unprecedented levels.
Energy Savings in Data Centers through HVAC Equipment
Traditionally when a building needs cooling, compressors engage and fans start to move air over cooling coils. This cooled air is used to condition the internal environment where the temperature is required to be lowered. This process is extremely effective but requires costly compressor and fan energy, adding avoidable cost considering external building temperature is lower than the temperature inside. When the outdoor enthalpy (a combination of temperature and humidity) is preferred over the indoor enthalpy, conditions are suitable for “free cooling”. Depending on the geographic location of the facility, economizer cooling can represents a dramatic reduction in overall energy consumption.
An economizer is like a window that automatically opens itself – with the added advantage of going through the rooftop AC’s filtration system. An airside economizer simply recognizes the preferred enthalpy of the outside air. When enthalpy conditions are suitable for “free cooling”, the economizer controls position outdoor air, return air, and relief dampers to facilitate free cooling through the first and sometimes second stages of cooling.
Economizers can contribute to a reduction in data center power consumption by utilizing the cooler external building temperatures to assist in cooling the facility and equipment when required. In maximizing energy savings and reducing HVAC cooling load, the cooling system’s product life can be extended.
A study on building control systems by Battelle Laboratories found that, on average, the normalized heating and cooling Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of buildings with economizers was 13 percent lower than those without economizers. When an airside economizer works properly, the savings are significant. Whether your company is looking to burnish its environmental credentials, to lower the cost of operating its data center, or both, a properly designed system integrating an airside economizer is a cornerstone of achieving both goals.
Economizers and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
A confined, un-aerated indoor space within a building allows gaseous fumes, odors, germs, and even fungi to grow in concentration to the point that the indoor air is qualitatively different from the ambient air. IAQ is important because the health and the comfort of people working indoors are an important factor in sustainable productivity. Poor IAQ in a working environment can cause discomfort or health problems sometimes resulting in a loss of productivity, increased errors, and even litigation. With the added benefit of reducing cost in power consumption, introducing outside air into a building via economizers can also contribute to improving indoor air quality. Following the relevant ASHRAE standards that apply to ventilation, air movement and exhausting of contaminants ensures that IAQ requirements will be met. To meet the requirements of ASHRAE 62 the outside air entering a building should be measured and controlled.
The most important part of an airside economizer are the damper blades that allow the control and supply of a fixed amount of outside air into the building. Parallel bladed economizers do a better job of mixing the outside and return air to provide optimal benefit to the system. The sealing ability of the damper is essential to the system as a whole, when contending with extreme temperatures external to the building. AMCA certified dampers can ensure leakage rates meet the appropriate standards.
It has to be recognized that during different seasons and in different climates the benefits from economizers may vary.
Relevant Codes and Standards applicable to Data Center HVAC
- International Energy Conservation Code: IECC – Adopted by eight states and many local jurisdictions (according to ICC)
- ASHRAE 62.1, 62.2, and air movement
- ASHRAE Energy Standard 90.1 – Required for LEED projects and can be used in place of IECC
Featuring Ruskin’s exclusive one-piece galvanized airfoil blade and stainless steel jamb, the Economizers provide low-leakage performance as described in ASHRAE Standard 90.1. Each unit also features Ruskin’s “SUREFLOW” sensing tubes and blade position indicator to help determine minimum airflow. This also helps assist in mixed air temperature verses blade position field adjustments.
Data Center Protection
The Natural Resources Defense Council states that Data centers can be regarded as the back bone of a modern economy serving businesses and communications. Defending data means not only protecting it from Mother Nature but also giving back to her with sustainable designs. A question that must be considered during the design of a data center, is ‘How likely could the facility be compromised in extreme weather conditions such as tornadoes and hurricanes?’
When evaluating potential HVAC equipment it is advisable to use FEMA rated louvers and grilles. FEMA rated grilles and hurricane-resistant louvers have been tested against high windloads and large missile impacts. Outside air control dampers can seal up the center when necessary to reduce humidity and heat.
Ruskin’s XP500S Extreme Weather Grille protects wall penetrations from flying debris caused by tornadoes, hurricanes, and severe storms. This type of protection is critical in the design of Community Shelters (ICC-500) and Safe Rooms (FEMA 361). It offers designers a ventilation solution for their near-absolute life safety requirements. The heavy duty grille can be mounted internally, externally, or in conjunction with other louvers providing protection and certified performance. Rated for an industry leading 266 psf windload, the XP500S Grille meets or exceeds the building envelope protection requirements while complementing the construction of data centers.
- FEMA P-361, Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes
- ICC-500 – ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters
Of: Tom Edwards
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