Small Embedded Data Center Pilot Program

Lester Shen, Bryan Severson — Jan 2015

Project update

The project team completed monitoring at all 11 sites and identified significant energy savings potential, specifically around air flow management and cooling, and simply turning off equipment during non-work hours. The team will complete the final report and host a webinar later this year. Full project update.

Why this research is needed

Small embedded data centers (SEDCs), commonly known as server rooms and data closets, are one of the fastest growing end uses of electrical energy in commercial buildings. They account for 2 percent of the total electricity use in the US(Koomey, 2011), and an estimated one-third of their energy usage is thought to be unnecessary. However, significant opportunity has not been systematically addressed. Utilities have difficulty designing conservation programs because the customer base is so diverse and dispersed. Device manufacturers are primarily concerned with providing sufficient server availability and capacity and small-to medium-sized companies are largely unaware of the energy usage of their data centers because no effort has been made to measure it (MnTAP, 2014).

Project process and expected outcomes

The characterization phase is gathering information needed to pilot a cost-effective, industry-accepted utility program for SEDCs built on previous research conducted by the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program and others. Our market research is identifying the major commercial sectors with SEDCs, the major IT vendors who serve these sectors, and the trusted sources of information. We are interviewing system administrators to gather additional information on barriers and opportunities for implementing energy efficiency measures in SEDCs. Lastly, we will interview utilities inside and outside of Minnesota to update information about current programs and best practices for incentivizing SEDC energy efficiency.

In the project phase, we have begun to  will measure energy use and evaluate energy efficiency strategies at 9 to 15 sites. We are developing and testing the effectiveness of a non-intrusive, low-cost method for measuring data center power usage. The efficiency strategies will be structured similarly to how they would be in a functioning utility program, providing training, educational tools, and customized incentives. The final report will address market characterization, customer barriers and opportunities, energy savings and cost effectiveness of efficiency measures, and best practices for cost-effectively identifying SEDCs in Minnesota. In addition, we will generate stakeholder-tested outreach and educational pieces for utility program implementation.

*This project supported in part by a grant from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources through the Conservation Applied Research and Development (CARD) program. And with co-funding by CEE in support of its nonprofit mission to advance research, knowledge dissemination, and program design in the field of energy efficiency.

1 Jonathan Koomey. 2011. Growth in Data center electricity use 2005 to 2010. Oakland, CA: Analytics Press. August 1. <>

Project Info


Develop a non-intrusive, low-cost method for measuring power usage in data centers. Gather information needed to pilor a cost-effective, industryaccepted utility programs for SEDCs.

Utility Implementation
We will determine typical savings, costs, and market barriers for SEDC efficiency measures, recommend marketing strategies, and estimate total market potential.

  • Conduct market research to better understand market characterization, customer barriers and opportunities.
  • Measure SEDC energy use at 9-15 sites.
Non Energy Impacts
The additional benefits include increased server up time, improved disaster recovery, and reduced capital costs.

Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation (WECC)
Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP)

CEE Contact
Lester Shen, Ph.D

Project Description