Data centers take the LEED

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There's no extra credit if you do a bang-up job in one area. "Even if you improve efficiency by a factor of five, you don't get more points for using renewable energy," he says.

"Everybody wants to have a LEED-certified data center, but it's not simple to do. It requires a lot of creativity," Gross says. While some items, such as installing bicycle racks (1 point), are easy to implement, others simply may not be practical. For example, LEED awards points for using natural lighting, but windows don't make sense in data centers. "It's a safety and security issue and has to do with heat transfer," Gross says. The idea is to minimize the number of windows in a data center."

Both Fannie Mae and Highmark say they started planning early. "That's the key," says Wood. Both also relied on an outside consulting engineering firm with expertise in LEED to help them make the right choices. Fannie Mae used EYP, while Highmark worked with RTKL Associates Inc. in Baltimore.

Fannie Mae completed its LEED-certified data center in Urbana, Md., two years ago. Many LEED checklist items it pursued had little effect on the data center itself. For example, it received points for using biodegradable cleaning materials, creating parking spaces for hybrid vehicles and designing the building to make maximum use of ambient light in office areas. "That one did not impact our ability to run the data center but helped us to save money," says Brian Cobb, senior vice president of enterprise systems management.

Policies requiring engineers to turn lights off in the data center when they depart, backed up by a sensor system, has saved $30,000 per month in lighting bills in the 60,000-square-foot facility, he says. Fannie Mae also took steps to mitigate the noise from diesel backup generators and equipped them with catalytic converters to cut down on pollution.

Highmark installed a special glazing on windows to increase energy efficiency. In the area of water efficiency, Wood estimates that Highmark saves 4.9 million gallons of water per year by storing the rainwater that runs off the roof and reusing it in the air conditioning system's cooling towers. Highmark's cooling towers evaporate 12,000 gallons per day, and the storage tank holds 100,000 gallons. "We're using 30% less water than we were before," he says.

LEED projects by industry sector

Within the data center itself, Highmark uses precision cooling, monitors temperatures in each rack and uses variable speed fans to better match the cooling and IT loads.

While there are costs to meeting LEED requirements, applicants also must pay a fee to USGBC. The cost of LEED certification ranges from $750 to $7,500 depending on the size of the facility and whether or not the applicant is a member.

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