By Keith Waters, P.E. C.E.M.

Manager, Industry Standards, Schneider Electric North America

In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, data centers stand as the backbone of modern businesses, facilitating the storage, processing, and dissemination of vast amounts of data. With the increasing reliance on digital services, the demand for data center capacity continues to surge, placing a significant strain on energy resources and operational efficiency. Advanced instrumentation and metering infrastructure play a critical role in addressing these challenges and enhancing efficiency, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness within data center operations.

Data centers are pivotal in supporting the digital infrastructure that underpins modern society, yet their voracious appetite for energy presents a pressing challenge. According to the International Energy Agency, data centers consumed an estimated 200 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2020, representing about 1% of global electricity demand. Advanced instrumentation and metering technologies play in enabling informed decision-making to address inefficiencies and mitigate energy wastage.

Understanding Energy Consumption Patterns in Data Centers

Energy consumption patterns in data centers are dynamic and influenced by factors such as workload demand, server utilization rates, and cooling requirements, which fluctuate over time. Additionally, the infrastructure within data centers, including servers, networking equipment, and cooling systems, contributes variably to overall energy consumption, necessitating the identification of energy-intensive components for optimization.

Seasonal variations, geographical location, and operational practices further impact energy usage, with factors like climate and renewable energy adoption influencing consumption trends. Moreover, technological advancements such as virtualization, containerization, and cloud computing alter workload distribution and hardware utilization, necessitating adaptive energy management strategies.

Leveraging Advanced Instrumentation Technologies

Advanced instrumentation technologies in data centers can help prevent costly downtime due to equipment failures by continuously monitoring the health and performance of various aspects of critical electrical infrastructure. By detecting early signs of degradation or malfunctions, data center operators can proactively schedule maintenance activities, replace faulty components, or redistribute workloads to unaffected servers, minimizing the risk of service disruptions and ensuring uninterrupted operation. These technologies also enable data center operators to anticipate and mitigate potential environmental risks, such as overheating or power fluctuations, which could lead to equipment damage or failures.

Accurate measurement within data centers necessitates a range of instruments, notably advanced digital meters tailored to the specific location within the power system. These meters offer nuanced insights crucial for optimal management. Depending on the position within the infrastructure, varying levels of functionality are required to capture relevant data effectively. Ensuring compliance with stringent accuracy and performance standards is imperative to guarantee the collected information’s reliability. From monitoring power quality to tracking energy consumption, these instruments serve as indispensable tools for data center operators striving for precision and efficiency in their operations.

Instrumentation plays a pivotal role, with sophisticated digital meters standing at the forefront, providing precise measurements tailored to specific points within the power system infrastructure. The selection of instruments is contingent upon the location within the system, dictating the requisite level of functionality. Paramount to this endeavor is adherence to stringent accuracy and performance standards, ensuring the reliability of collected data. Established best practices and guidelines distilled from collective industry wisdom and rigorous research endeavors serve as a compass, directing efforts toward optimizing industrial and commercial power systems’ performance, efficiency, and reliability.

Implementing Advanced Metering Infrastructure

Adopting advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) allows for precise monitoring and management of energy consumption. By integrating smart meters and monitoring systems, operators can accurately track power usage, identify inefficiencies, and implement strategies to optimize energy efficiency. Industry standards and guidelines help support data center operators in this quest to ensure data center operations’ reliability, safety, and sustainability. For example, IEEE 3001.8 covers the instrumentation and metering of industrial and commercial power systems to achieve a successful energy management process, as well as considerations that must be made when applying the latest metering technology.

A new standard in development, IEEE 3005.7, will also offer guidance on the application of metering within industrial and commercial power systems. This is part of a series of standards developed by the IEEE Industry Application Society’s Industrial and Commercial Power System Department that support many aspects of data center design and operation. Notably, their Data Center Subcommittee serves as a vital hub for discourse and publication on diverse topics, including AMI.

When implementing advanced metering, five key aspects must be carefully considered. Firstly, measurement techniques are essential for monitoring and analyzing various parameters within power systems, encompassing voltage, current, power factor, frequency, and harmonics. Next, attention should be given to data communication protocols, ensuring efficient transmission of measurement data to central monitoring systems or control centers.

Thirdly, maintaining metering accuracy is crucial, necessitating adherence to guidelines encompassing calibration procedures and verification methods to ensure precise readings. Fourthly, effective data management and analysis practices are indispensable, encompassing storage, retrieval, and analysis of measurement data for purposes such as load profiling, energy auditing, and system troubleshooting. Lastly, monitoring power quality parameters such as voltage sags, swells, transients, and flicker are vital for assessing and mitigating issues affecting the quality and reliability of the power supply. Integrating these elements into the advanced metering implementation process ensures comprehensive monitoring and management of energy consumption while promoting efficiency and reliability within power systems.

While the escalating demand for data center capacity poses significant challenges to energy resources and operational efficiency, advanced instrumentation and metering infrastructure emerge as pivotal solutions in addressing these challenges and enhancing efficiency, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness within data center operations. By leveraging advanced instrumentation technologies, data center operators gain enhanced visibility into power systems, power quality, and predictive maintenance capabilities. Moreover, implementing AMI enables precise monitoring and management of energy consumption, supporting efforts to optimize efficiency while ensuring reliability and sustainability. With adherence to industry standards and guidelines, data center operators can navigate the complexities of metering technology and drive forward toward a more resilient and efficient digital infrastructure.

About the Author: 

Keith Waters, P.E. C.E.M., is a Manager of Industry Standards at Schneider Electric, the global leader in digital transformation of energy management and automation. Keith is responsible for overcurrent protection and automation/control product standards, installation codes, and enforcement.  Keith is engaged in applying codes and standards addressing cybersecurity, energy efficiency & sustainability across many types of installations, including data centers.