Data center design and location: Consequences for electricity use and greenhouse-gas emissions

Arman Shehabi, Eric Masanet, Hillary Price, Arpad Horvath, William W. Nazaroff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


The rapidly increasing electricity demand for data center operation has motivated efforts to better understand current data center energy use and to identify strategies that reduce the environmental impact of these buildings. This paper builds on previous data center energy modeling efforts by characterizing local climate and mechanical equipment differences among data centers and then evaluating their consequences for building energy use. Cities in the United States with significant data center activity are identified. Representative climate conditions for these cities are applied to data center energy models for several different prototypical space types. Results indicate that widespread, effective economizer use in data centers could reduce energy demand for data centers by about 20-25%, equivalent to an energy efficiency resource in the US of ~13-17 billion kWh per year. Almost half of the potential savings would result from better airflow management and proper control sequences. The total energy savings potential of economizers, although substantial, is constrained by their limited potential for use in server closets and server rooms, which together are estimated to account for about 30% of all data center energy demand. Incorporating economizer use into the mechanical systems of larger data centers would increase the variation in energy efficiency among geographic regions, indicating that as data center buildings become more energy efficient, their locations will have an increasing effect on overall energy demand. Differences among regions become even more important when accounting for greenhouse-gas emissions. Future data center development could consider site location, along with efficiency measures, to limit the environmental impact attributable to this increasingly prominent economic sector.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)990-998
Number of pages9
JournalBuilding and Environment
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Climate-change mitigation
  • Economizers
  • Energy efficiency
  • HVAC design
  • IT
  • Indoor environmental quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Building and Construction


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