Power Company Gives Rebates on Energy-Efficient Servers
Published: August 17, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Pacific Gas and Electric, the power company that supplies electricity to Silicon Valley and the rest of northern and central California, is extending its rebate program for energy-efficient machinery into the data center. This is the first time that any public utility in the world has given such rebates for servers.
It may seem contrary to business logic for power companies to try to curtail electrical usage, but for many years they have been doing just that for residential and commercial customers so they don't have brownouts or blackouts during times of peak usage.
PG&E, like many power companies, has for many years given consumers who buy energy efficient refrigerators, air conditioners, and other appliances that eat lots of juice rebates when they upgrade from old gear that is not nearly as efficient. By doing so, the power companies help defer the cost of the upgrade, which when the temperature is soaring to 95 or 100 degrees adds up across many consumers and can make the difference between having enough power to supply all customers and having a blackout. Similarly, power companies have also been using rebates to get commercial enterprises to upgrade their electric machinery, power generators, air conditioners, chillers, and other gear to more efficient models.
Last winter, in the wake of its "Niagara" Sparc T1 launch, Sun Microsystems started talking to PG&E about possibly getting rebates for companies that upgrade their servers to more green technologies. The T1 chip, which runs at between 70 and 79 watts, is a very efficient server for many workloads, and Sun obviously wants to promote the use of this new technology. So having such a rebate could help defer the cost of acquisition for its T1000 and T2000 servers.
According to Dave Douglas, vice president of eco-responsibility at Sun, who is charged with spearheading Sun power conservation efforts across its entire product line, PG&E agreed to assess whether or not the servers using the T1 chips were worthy of a rebate under the Non-Residential Retrofit Program. Sun and PG&E found three joint customers who had acquired T1 servers and who use PG&E electricity, and then did a thorough analysis of the savings these companies had achieved in power and cooling. These results were audited by an unnamed third party with expertise in energy issues. Having done that, PG&E calculated that, on average, customers using these servers saved approximately $1,000 per system per year, with about one quarter of that coming from having to use less air conditioning and three quarters coming from consuming less power in the first place. And so, PG&E will now give customers who buy a T1000 or T2000 server a one-time rebate worth between $700 and $1,000 if they remove their power-hungry X86 or RISC servers and put in these T1 boxes.
Having gotten its first two machines certified for the rebates--which are funded by PG&E, not Sun--Douglas is now examining what other Sun products could get on the rebate schedule. For instance, moving from older 1 GHz single-core UltraSparc-III servers to the new 1.8 GHz dual-core UltraSparc-IV+ in Sun Fire machines can add five times as much computing power in the same thermal footprint, or keep the same performance and reduce the power envelope by a factor of five. "There's a lot of interesting things we can do now that we have the first machine certified," says Douglas. "Some ideas we will take to PG&E, and some we will promote on our own." Sun is also talking to other power companies, who were hanging back to see what PG&E would do before they jumped in. And, of course, Sun's competitors are now also trying to get in on the program, too.