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How Can Data Centers Prioritize Energy Efficiency? Learn More At Bisnow’s May 21-23 DICE East Event


As more data centers are built, concern grows over their energy usage. While swift action is being taken to enhance energy efficiency, data centers still make up 1% to 1.5% of the world’s electricity usage, according to the International Energy Agency

It has become more important for building operators to monitor their energy usage and take steps to make their operations more efficient. Johnson Controls Inc. is one company that helps buildings work toward their sustainability goals by using artificial intelligence to provide property owners with the insights they need to enhance their performance.

Johnson Controls Product Director Merle Brubaker will address energy efficiency at Bisnow’s National Data Center Investment Expo and Conference on May 21-23 in Northern Virginia, where he will be a member of the What’s Next for Data Center Operations panel.

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In a conversation with Bisnow, Brubaker discussed the importance of having a sustainable data center, choosing the right equipment and using AI to enhance success.

Bisnow: How can data center operators optimize their facilities while keeping sustainability in mind?

Brubaker: Having a sustainable data center means that its air-handling infrastructure is rightsized. The building should be using smart controls to make sure that the uptime is maintained when extreme weather conditions or a power outage occur, the latter of which results in generators being turned on.

Picking the right size air-handling units is especially important. You can move a lot of air with five or six units. Alternatively, you could get smaller units that would move the same amount of air but would end up consuming more energy and be less sustainable. 

Knowing how much energy the different computer room air handlers use means you can optimize performance to minimize the power input to those units. It’s about making sure the units are the right size and have optimized system configurations.

Bisnow: What steps should buildings take to cut down on their costs?

Brubaker: To make sure the building’s costs are low, operators have to choose equipment that consumes low full-load power so that the electrical infrastructure cost, which is a significant portion of the overall infrastructure cost, can remain as low as possible. 

Technologies like chilled water reset can help ensure the data center is being operated in a sustainable manner, reduce its annual energy cost and make sure that extreme conditions do not cause any loss of uptime. They can change the chilled water setpoint in an extreme condition and keep the data center online during emergencies. There should also be strong communication between the several applied HVAC equipment. As long as the equipment is communicating, it can execute the sequence of operations to facilitate the chilled water.

Bisnow: What are the risks that come with failing to stay on top of building optimization?

Brubaker: Data centers that are not optimized can face challenges including overdesign and a high carbon footprint of the building itself. It also means that the equipment on the rooftop is larger and heavier than it needs to be, which would in turn make the structural steel required for the robustness of the building to be much larger than it needs to be. 

Overall, optimizing the HVAC architecture as well as the weight of the HVAC equipment generally leads to a great structural design. It also comes with the benefit of lower annual energy costs and a smarter sequence of operations to power the data center.

Bisnow: How can artificial intelligence help?

Brubaker: AI-based tools can help operate the cooling infrastructure of a data center in a more reliable and energy-efficient fashion. Using AI can lead to changing some of the parameters that were considered stagnant or fixed in the sequence of operations. 

AI can provide better energy cost performance, which also leads to more sustainable operations. The first step is to integrate AI and the second is to allow it to make modifications to the HVAC sequence of operations as time goes on. It will continue to make the annual energy costs lower.

Data center operators can use the technology to optimize their entire system — including the chillers, air handlers and pumps — to make sure that the data center is getting the right flow through the building at the right temperatures. This can not only optimize energy usage but also cost. There might be times when they want to run the equipment a little bit more during nonpeak hours. If that’s the case, they’d have to look at that from a cost and energy consumption standpoint. 

Bisnow: What do you look forward to most about attending this year’s DICE East event?

Brubaker: The growth of the industry seems to be accelerating faster than even about a year ago. Northern Virginia is at the head of data center construction in North America. Our applied HVAC center of excellence and our computer room air handler manufacturing locations are very close to Northern Virginia.

I’m also interested in understanding the future of AI computing, specifically what the transition to AI means for building system designs and how Johnson Controls can help with its products and services.

We expect the demand for certain HVAC products, like computer room air handlers, to continue to grow in the foreseeable future. We also understand that the need for coolant distribution units might ramp up even faster than the average growth rate of the data center itself. 

Knowing and understanding the future architecture of these data centers, whether they are going to be air-cooled servers, liquid-cooled servers or hybrid data centers, as well as what technologies will be used in these structures in terms of the hardware and software — these are all open questions that we would love to learn more about during the conference. 

Don’t miss the chance to attend Bisnow’s DICE East event. Click here to learn more.

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Johnson Controls. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

Studio B is Bisnow’s in-house content and design studio. To learn more about how Studio B can help your team, reach out to