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Opinion
Nathaniel Bullard

Energy Efficiency Is a Hot Problem for Big Tech’s Data Centers

As companies get more innovative on the computing front, they have to figure out how to keep things cool — literally.

Pretty and pricey.

Pretty and pricey.

Photographer: Ashley Pon/Bloomberg

Electrons aren’t much of a growth industry in the U.S., the second-largest electricity market in the world after China. Electricity sales rose last year, after nearly a decade of being flat or falling slightly, but are still only up 3% since 2007. There is one market, though, where demand for electrons is booming: data centers. That power-hungry growth market, though, is also where some of the world’s biggest, most capitalized and most innovative companies are bringing their might to bear.

Before getting into that innovation, though, there’s a crucial equation to consider: the power usage effectiveness ratio, or PUE. PUE is a measure of a data center’s energy efficiency — the ratio of total energy used divided by energy consumed specifically for information technology activities. The theoretical ideal PUE is 1, where 100% of electricity consumption goes toward useful computation. All the other stuff — power transformers, uninterruptible power supplies, lighting and especially cooling — uses power but doesn’t compute, and as a result raises a data center’s PUE.