Humana's EDF Climate Corps fellow talks Whiskey, Data Centers and Power Strips – Oh my!

EDF Climate Corps fellow | August 5, 2011

By John-Paul Fontelo, 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Humana, MBA Candidate at University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business

My task this summer is to help the Louisville-based healthcare company Humana save on energy, focusing on its data centers. In my last blog, I discussed data centers from a high level, but in this edition, I'd like to get a bit more technical about quick-win projects companies can implement in data centers.

Before I alienate the non-engineers out there, let me share with an anecdote from my visit to the Maker's Mark distillery in Loretto, KY – about an hour and fifteen minutes' drive south of Louisville. On the tour, the guide mentioned that Maker's actually recycles waste generated in the distillation process and converts it into biogas to supplement energy to the company's operations.  I looked around at the property with its gorgeous Whisky Creek, majestic oak trees, and Bill Samuels, Sr.'s quaint original house and thought, "21st century renewable energy in Bourbon country.  I believe it!"  In this case, when we're talking sweet Kentucky Bourbon, it's pretty easy to listen.  When we're talking cost savings and the bottom line, company execs should listen too.

You don't have to be an engineer to get involved in the technical side of energy efficiency.  All you need is keen interest, a general understanding of energy, and an ally who is skilled in that area.  Humana's ally in this case is Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI), which Humana engaged as its energy efficiency partner.  JCI is fronting the engineering muscle and getting under the floor (literally) to identify energy efficiency solutions on which I hope to run the numbers and assess economic value.

A couple projects we're looking into for Humana so far:

  • Installing Variable Speed Drives (VSD's): Server racks, when they're all bundled together in a room, tend to get pretty hot.  They need to be cooled or else they'll overheat and shut down, which isn't an option when you're storing clients' vital healthcare information.  We have specialized air-conditioners to provide this cooling known as CRAC's (Computer Room Air Conditioners).  Typically, the fans inside these units are running at a constant speed unless there is something to tell them to slow down when they're not needed --- that's what a VSD does.
  • Implementing hot and cold aisle containment: Continuing with the cooling theme, setting an intact airflow that swiftly carries cold air to the servers and removes hot air away from them is a good opportunity for cost savings.  Solutions range from as simple as installing blanking panels to as complex as creating an entire enclosed room.
  • Utilizing smart power strips:  One of our data centers has significant area of office space where I have noticed a lot of monitors and task lighting on when no one is around.  This could be addressed through a power strip that either: (a) has a motion sensor that senses when an employee is not present and turns off or  (b) can be calibrated to turn off certain plugs when it senses that a certain control device is off.

It'll be interesting to see what comes through, but I'm sure that with the partnerships Humana is forming in its sustainability efforts, this company is positioning itself to be an odds-on favorite for success. Stay tuned –I'll report my findings in my next blog!

This content is cross-posted on In Good Company: The Vault's CSR blog.

EDF Climate Corps matches trained students from leading business schools with companies to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.