How One Data Center Company Leverages Energy Efficiency As A Marketing Tool (CleanTechnica Exclusive)

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Millions of old buildings pepper the US and they are ripe for energy efficiency upgrades. So, what’s stopping you? Well, for buildings with tenants that’s not so easy. Even just getting people to turn off the darned lights when they leave the room can be a challenges.

Last week CleanTechnica described how the data center operator Sabey strategized upgrades for its property in Quincy, Washington. Now we have some exclusive followup insights via email from John Sasser, Senior VP of Operations at Sabey.

Balancing Energy Efficiency And Operations

Saving energy is simple. You can save a lot of energy by not using your furnace in the winter, but then you would be cold and perhaps even freeze to death.

Energy efficiency is another matter entirely. CleanTechnica asked Mr. Sasser to describe some of the obstacles to improving energy performance in a building with tenants.

Here’s his answer:

The measures must be well thought out to continue to support the primary mission of your tenants. If it interferes too much with their intended use of the building, or it is too cumbersome on them, it is reasonable to expect push back.

Most measures we put in place (efficient air handlers, segregating the UPS batteries, efficient UPS) are outside our tenants’ spaces. So long as we continue to provide conditioned air and power, the tenants are happy.

The measure with the most management challenge is hot aisle containment – consistently good segregation of cold and hot air. This requires certain behaviors from the customers – for example, the installation of blanking panels in unutilized cabinet spaces.

We observe the condition of our data hall spaces and work with tenants to help solve challenges with this.

We have been fortunate to work with outstanding customers who quickly grasp the benefits of containment, not just in lower electricity bills they pay, but also in consistent temperatures for the intakes of their IT equipment.

Often, it is a matter of explaining the benefits and helping to find solutions.

Sharing Is Caring

Sabey crossed the CleanTechnica radar because the company was recently highlighted by the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge.

This Obama-era program is a public-private partnership aimed at encouraging building owners and other stakeholders to develop and share best practices for improving energy efficiency and other building performance metrics.

So, why would a company want to share their secrets with the competition? Sasser provided this answer:

Sabey has long been passionate about providing efficient data centers for our customers. In addition to the benefits to the environment, improving efficiency reduces operating expenses.

We view it as doing the right thing and doing the smart thing. When we the Department of Energy invited us to join the Better Building Challenge, we were excited to share some of the practices we have done over the years to be a leader in operating more efficient data centers, especially in the multi-tenant space.

The Better Buildings Challenge is a marketing opportunity that amplifies Sabey’s sustainability messaging and attracts clients that use sustainability as a marketing tool as well.

For example, here’s a client testimonial featured on the company’s website:

Akamai has a sustainability goal to reduce the energy intensity of our network by 30% per year. Our global outsourced data center operations represent 40% of this energy consumption. So it’s important to us that our collocation partners are also striving to improve the efficiency of their operations.

Sabey’s success is helping Akamai with our sustainability goals. We congratulate Sabey on its 100% Energy Star achievement and its focus on data center efficiency innovation.

The demand-response energy management specialist CPPower has a good angle on the tenant perspective for leveraging sustainability as a marketing tool.

Speaking of the Energy Star program, it’s worth noting that the current occupant of the Oval Office proposed eliminating the popular program last year, and touched off another “uproar” in the business world earlier this year when he lobbied again to eliminate the $42 million EPA budget item for Energy Star.

Our friends over at The Hill have the recap:

But groups that represent manufacturers, retailers, utilities, environmentalists and others who benefit from the program are lining up against Trump’s plan.

They cite, among other things, the estimated $30 billion in energy savings that users of Energy Star products achieve each year, arguing that it’s a hugely successful program that should be embraced.

Thirty billion dollars!

Whatever Happened to the Lightbulb Wars?

CleanTechnica also asked if Sabey was looking at new technologies, and the first thing that popped up was lighting.

That brings to mind the “lightbulb wars” of several years ago, when the Obama Administration was tasked with phasing in Bush-era regulations compelling manufacturers to come up with alternatives to conventional incandescent bulbs.

The idea was that the old bulbs waste 90% of energy in the form of heat, making them a low-hanging fruit for improving energy efficiency nationwide.

Lighting is still a common sense target for energy efficiency upgrades, even in buildings where lights don’t contribute significantly to overall energy use.

Sasser explained that lighting is a “minor user of energy in a data center, when compared to other uses,” but from a bottom line perspective it still makes sense go all-in for LED lighting, so that’s what the company uses in its new projects.

He also mentioned a few other technologies:

We have implemented different battery technologies (e.g. pure lead) which allow for more flexibility in the UPS room cooling, thus providing more efficiency for those spaces.

We also continue to look at new cooling technologies, such as some of the advances which have been made in air-cooled chillers.

There is quite a bit going on in cooling technologies for data centers, and we are consistently looking at what might make sense for us to adopt in our facilities.

Before we take leave of Sabey, let’s note that the company also leans on low cost renewable energy to attract new clients. The Quincy property, for example, sports a rate of $.0265/kWh for hydropower.

Photo (screenshot): via Sabey Data Centers.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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