A growing market for cleantech: data centers

Data centers might not be the energy hogs anticipated in 2010, but they’re still offering a growing market for both energy efficiency technology and clean power. In 2010 data centers accounted for about 1.1 percent to 1.5 percent of total global electricity, and between 1.7 percent and 2.2 percent of electricity use in the U.S., according to the latest report from researcher Jonathan Koomey.

Data centers are an industry where energy is actually a pain point for the company, in the form of a high energy bill. Compare that market to, say, a consumer buying an electric vehicle in the U.S., when gas prices are still relatively low and gas-cars are far cheaper than EVs.

So as a result, data center operators are starting to implement both the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency tools, and are also looking at cleaner power options, whether that’s fuel cells, or even solar and wind technology.  Here’s 7 green technologies that data centers are beginning to adopt, or at least consider:

1). Basic energy efficiency tech: This is the very bottom of the barrel, cheap, obvious stuff. Hot and cold aisles — picture plastic shower curtains — are being used in data centers to keep cold air and hot air separated in a more efficient way. Also included in this group is just turning up the thermostat in data centers to a warm 80 degrees. Slightly more ambitious is designing data centers to use more outside air when available, cutting out the energy hungry chillers.

2). Wireless monitoring systems: Wireless monitoring and management systems are being used by data center operators to figure out the temperature, humidity and energy consumption of a data center, and to monitor the efficiency of the data center in real time. Monitoring these figures in real time maintains efficiency throughout the hot summer and cold winter months, and can save significant energy.

3). Fuel cells: Some data center operators, like NTT and AT&T (s T), are installing fuel cells as backup, axilliary and even primary power. Bloom Energy scored those previous mentioned deals. Fuel cell maker ClearEdge Power is looking to expand its customers outside of residential and commercial and plans to launch a data center-targeted fuel cell line later this year.

4). Solar & wind: While few data centers are actually fully powered by solar and wind, some data centers are installing panels on rooftops, to power certain parts of the data center. Research is also being done to see how data centers can provide on demand computing that follows the sun and the wind, combining distributed computing with distributed power. Google (s GOOG) has been particularly aggressive when it comes to investing in clean power, and potentially could one day power its data centers with the clean power it owns.

5). Biomass to energy: These are systems that convert organic waste or plants into energy. HP Labs has developed a system that can power a 1 MW data center using manure from 10,000 cows, and developers in Colorado Springs want to build a data center campus with servers powered by waste and wood.

6). Thermoelectric materials: Startups and researchers are working on thermoelectric materials that can convert waste heat into electricity and be used in servers. Applied Methodologies Inc. has been working on the concept since 2007 and Alphabet Energy is a Valley startup that is developing these materials.

7). Energy efficient power conversion: Startup Transphorm is developing a power conversion module that it says can significantly reduce electricity losses when power is converted from alternatingve current (AC) to direct current (DC) or the other way around. The company is targeting data center operators and raised funding from Google Ventures.

Images courtesy of The Planet, SynapSense, Bloom Energy, Transphorm.