NREL collaborates on energy-efficient data centre solutions

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) joined a $40 million programme led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to radically rethink how components within data centres are cooled.

Among the 15 ARPA-E projects selected, NREL has been named as the lead on one research project and is supporting three additional projects within the ARPA-E Cooling Operations Optimised for Leaps in Energy, Reliability, and Carbon Hyperefficiency for Information Processing Systems (COOLERCHIPS) programme.

The selected COOLERCHIPS projects, with partners from national laboratories, universities, and industry—are exploring how to reduce the energy required to power and cool data centres. These efforts will lower the operational carbon footprint associated with this critical infrastructure and support ambitious clean energy goals to reach net-zero carbon by 2050.

NREL is a living laboratory where cutting-edge concepts are deployed on campus to show real-world applications. For NREL buildings researchers, high-performance computing is necessary for modelling and simulations, allowing researchers to analyse very large data sets and control complex systems to better understand real-world applications.

For example, in the End-Use Load Profiles project, building energy consumption is modelled using the supercomputer Eagle to inform decision makers and help answer the “What ifs” surrounding decarbonisation measures in buildings across the country. NREL’s supercomputer supported approximately 900,000 building energy models, each representing one year of energy consumption, across various buildings and climates, in 15-minute intervals, separated into end-use categories.

To efficiently cool the supercomputer on NREL’s South Table Mountain Campus in Golden, Colourado, a warm-water liquid-cooling method captures 97% of its waste heat and is then made available for use throughout the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) that houses the data centre. Heated water is integrated directly into the main thermal system of the building and provides the primary source of heat for ESIF’s office and lab spaces—and is even used to dae-ice the sidewalks outside of ESIF in the winter. With this efficient cooling method, just under 2 MW of electrical power is required to operate Eagle.

COOLERCHIPS aims to reduce total cooling energy expenditure to less than 5% of a typical data center’s IT load at any time and in any U.S. location for a high-density computing system. Raising the technological bar to reduce data centre cooling energy will decrease the operational CO2 footprint, improve centre security, and reduce operational costs.

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