Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer Saves NREL $1M in Energy Costs

October 20, 2014 By Karen Henry

NREL-ESIF-energy-manageCrunching a quadrillion calculations per second takes a lot of energy, so it’s not surprising that supercomputing data centers generate a lot of heat. Hewlett-Packard (HP) and the US Department of Energy (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have created a supercomputer that uses warm water to cool its servers and then reuses that water to heat the building.

R&D Magazine recognized the supercomputer as one of the top innovations of the year, NREL reports on its website.

The supercomputer—dubbed the Peregrine—is housed in NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) and is the first installation of the HP Apollo 8000 platform.

Using more than 31,000 Intel Xeon processors to provide a total capacity of 1.19 petaflops, Peregrine provides sufficient heat to meet the needs of the 182,500-square-foot ESIF and is saving NREL about $1 million a year in energy costs. The ESIF consumes 74 percent less energy than the national average for office buildings. It has been designated a LEED Platinum building and was named 2014 Laboratory of the Year by R&D Magazine.

Liquid cooling allows the servers to be packed more densely and still stay cool, rather than having servers spread out in an acres-large data center so that they can be cooled sufficiently with air. Cooling the servers with warm water rather than cold means the system doesn’t need to be in a data center supported by compressor-based chillers, resulting in a system that cools at about a tenth of the cost compared to a chiller-based cooling system. This is largely because the water supplied for cooling can be 75 degrees Fahrenheit rather than 45 or 50 degrees.

As the water cools the servers, the servers heat the water, so that by the time the liquid finishes a pass of the data center, its temperature has risen to 95 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer—sufficient to be the primary heat source for ESIF offices and lab spaces. The waste heat that warms the building via the hot water in the pipes circulates back to cool down the racks of servers, completing the loop.

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