The US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has debuted its high performance computing (HPC) data center in Golden, Colo.
Steve Hammond (pictured), director of NREL’s Computational Science Center, stands in front of air-cooled racks in the HPC data center in the lab’s new Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF).
The HPC will meet three goals set out by NREL.
First, when the system is completely built out this summer, it will use warm-water liquid cooling to reach an annualized average power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.06 or better.
Secondly, the HPC data center is dedicated solely to advancing energy systems integration, renewable energy research and energy efficiency technologies.
And thirdly, NREL also wanted to capture and use the heat generated by the computers in the HPC system and reuse that as the primary heat source for the ESIF office space and laboratories.
Water being supplied to the servers will be approximately 75 degrees Fahrenheit; the water returning from the HPC will be in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and is designed to be the primary source of heat for ESIF’s office and lab spaces. Data-center waste heat is even used under the front plaza and walkway outside the building to help melt snow and ice.
Compared to a typical data center, NREL says it may save $800,000 of operating expenses per year from energy efficiency technology. By capturing and using waste heat, it may save another $200,000 that would otherwise be used to heat the building.
Similarly, Canadian telecommunications company Telus is building a $750-million residential and commercial complex in downtown Vancouver, BC, and is going to heat and cool the new Telus Garden development with waste heat from its own nearby data center.
In terms of cooling the NREL HPC data center, the team is taking a different approach compared to traditional computer systems in which a mechanical chiller outside delivers cold water into the data center and air-conditioning units blow cold air under a raised floor to keep computer components from overheating.
Conversely, NREL’s system will be a new, warm-water cooled high-performance system. The 75-degree-Fahrenheit design point is a higher starting temperature for computer cooling. Starting at this temperature allows NREL to eliminate compressor-based cooling systems and instead use cooling towers. In a data center, this is comparable to a homeowner using an energy-efficient swamp cooler rather than an air conditioner. In addition, the pump energy needed to move liquid in the cooling system is much less than the fan energy needed to move the air in a traditional data center. Water is about 1,000 times more effective than air in terms of the thermodynamics, or the heat exchange.
A new component-level liquid cooling system, developed by HP, will be used to keep computer components within safe operating range, reducing the number of fans in the backs of the racks.
The $10 million HPC system will support NREL’s research on clean energy technologies including solar photovoltaics, wind energy, electric vehicles, buildings technologies, and renewable fuels.