Coal Burning Power Plants must Finally Reduce Mercury emission

March 1st, 2012

Coal burning power plants account for the vast majority of the mercury that we contact. I’ve read statistics that 80-95% of the mercury that we contact comes from coal burning power plants. In the US, it is estimated that coal-fired power plants are responsible for half of the nation’s mercury emissions.

The mercury in the emissions literally rains down on the oceans and land falling on crops that we eat, in the rivers and oceans that we fish, and on our backyards and into our lungs. Mercury leads to many very serious mental and physical disorders.

“According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, mercury is responsible for thousands of premature deaths and heart attacks. It can also damage children’s nervous systems and harm their ability to think and learn. The mercury, in essence, falls back to earth where it gets into the food chain.” (energy biz, “Obama Showers Coal with Mercury Rule”, Jan 3, 2012–http://www.energybiz.com/article/12/01/obama-showers-coal-mercury-rule). I’ve read in EPA reports that there is estimated to be 50,000 pre-mature deaths every year in the US due to the emissions from coal-burning power plants. Imagine loosing an entire city of 50,000 people every year? That is a city in population not much different than Palo Alto, CA. And that figure does not count the number of lung-related issues such as asthma that develop from these emissions.

Well, the Clean Air Act provides each of us the right to clean air. As such, in December, 2011, “the EPA carried out its obligation under the 1990 Clean Air Act and demanded that coal-fired power plants implement the available technologies to reduce their emissions by 90 percent.”

These regulations are not a shock to most utilities, as they have been aware of the pending regulations for some time (since the clean air act was put into law), and most utilities actually support the law as it allows them to shut down old coal-fired power plants, which are a financial, legal and environmental liability in exchange for building new, cleaner burning and more efficient power plants. These new regulations really only affect coal plants that were constructed 30 to 50 years ago. The operators can choose to have them meet the new requirements or shut down and replace them with new, more efficient and less polluting plants– a decision compelled not just by the new regulations but also by the need to compete with lower cost shale gas. Since most utilities in the US get a return on building new infrastructure, it is good business to build new power plants. Essentially, it sets a more level playing field to the 1,400 coal-fired US power plants and ends 20 years of uncertainty about these regulations.

Will these new regulations cause electricity prices to increase? Yes, but not likely significantly, as the “EPA estimates that the cost of carrying out the new mercury rules will be about $9.6 billion annually. But it also says that payback will be as much as $90 billion by 2016 when all power plants are expected to be in compliance, or closed. The agency expects “small changes” in the average retail electricity rates, noting that the shift to abundant shale-gas will shield consumers.” I agree with that assessment, as shale-gas will keep prices down. Even though “The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity says that the new mercury rule, in combination with other pending coal-related regulations, will increase electricity prices by $170 billion” through 2020, a estimate not much different than the EPA’s and also one to likely have a very minimal affect on electricity prices since it is such a small percentage of total electricity spend per year.

The same group says that “Coal helps make electricity affordable for families and businesses,” says Steve Miller, chief executive of the coal group. “Unfortunately, this new rule is likely to be the most expensive rule ever imposed on coal-fueled power plants which are responsible for providing affordable electricity.” Of course, when one accounts for health-related costs, the new emissions rules are far less costly than paying for your son’s asthma medicine and your father’s lung cancer treatments. Finally, we are getting slightly cleaner air, something the clean air act provided to us by law over 40 years ago.

Call for Case Studies and Data Center Efficiency Projects

February 15th, 2012

As many of you know, I have chaired what has become known as the SVLG Data Center Efficiency Summit since the end of it’s first year’s program. That was fall of 2008. A wonderful summit held at Sun Microsystem’s Santa Clara campus. This has been a customer-focused, volunteer-driven project with case studies presented by end-users about their efficiency achievements. The goal is for all case studies to share actual results of the savings to show what works, best ways to improve efficiency and to provide ideas and support for all kinds of efficiency improvements within our data centers. We’ve highlighted software, hardware and infrastructure improvements, as well as new technologies and processes, in the effort that we all gain when we share. Through collaboration we all improve. And as an industry, if we all improve, we avoid over-regulation, we all help to preserve our precious energy supplies and keep their costs from escalating as quickly. We all help to reduce emissions generated as an industry and drive innovation. In essence, we all gain when we share ideas with each other.

As such, I have thought of this program to be immensely valuable as an industry tool to efficiency and improvement for all. Consequently, I have volunteered hundreds of hours of my time and forgiven personal financial gain to chair and help advance this program along with many other volunteers who have also given much of their time to advance this successful and valuable program. I do not have the resources to continually give of my volunteer time–I wish I did–but do hope to provide more support or time with future corporate sponsorship.

I do hope that you can participate in this valuable program and the corresponding event held in the late fall every year since 2008. Below is more information from the SVLG. You can also call me for more info.

Attention data center operators, IT managers, energy managers, engineers and vendors of green data center technologies: A call for case studies and demonstration projects is now open for the fifth annual Data Center Efficiency Summit to be held in November 2012.

The Data Center Efficiency Summit is a signature event of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group in partnership with the California Energy Commission and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which brings together engineers and thought leaders for one full day to discuss best practices, cutting edge new technologies, and lessons learned by real end users – not marketing pitches.

We welcome case studies presented by an end user or customer. If you are the vendor of an exciting new technology, please work with your customers to submit a case study. Case studies of built projects with actual performance data are preferred.

Topics to consider:
Energy Efficiency and/or Demand Response
Efficient Cooling (Example: Liquid Immersion Cooling)
Efficient Power Distribution (Example: DC Power)
IT Impact on Energy Efficiency (Example: Energy Impact of Data Security)
Energy Efficient Data Center Operations
In the final version of your case study, you will need to include:
Quantifiable savings in terms of kWh savings, percentage reduction in energy consumption, annual dollar savings for the data center, or CO2 reduction
Costs and ROI including all implementation costs with a breakdown (hardware, software, services, etc) and time horizon for savings
Description of site environment (age, size or load, production or R&D use)
List of any technology vendors or NGO partners associated with project
Please submit a short (1 page or less) statement of interest and description of your project or concept by March 2, 2012 to asmart@svlg.org with subject heading: DCES12. Final case studies will need to be submitted in August 2012. Submissions will be reviewed and considered in the context of this event.
Interested in setting up a demonstration project at your facility? We may be able to provide technical support and independent evaluation. Please call Anne at 408-501-7871 for information.

Green Enterprise IT (GEIT) Awards due Feb 3rd

January 16th, 2012

Many of the technologies and end users we showcase in the case studies of the SVLG Data Center Efficiency Summit that I’ve chaired the last few years end up being winners of the GEIT awards. I’ve also been fortunate to have been asked to be a judge of these awards in the past and love to read about technologies and end users pushing the efficiency envelope.

If you have a data center project that pushes energy efficiency to a new level, or showcases a great way of increasing efficiency, take a look at the following information and apply!! A win will be a nice feather in your cap. (You can copy the URLs below to receive more information and apply.)

Do You Have Data Center Energy-Efficiency or Green IT Accomplishments to Showcase?
If so, the Uptime Institute encourages you to apply for the Green Enterprise IT (GEIT) Awards (http://symposium.uptimeinstitute.com/geit-awards). The Institute grants these awards to data center owners, operators and vendors for projects, ideas and products that significantly improve energy productivity and resource use in IT, data centers and beyond. Previous winners include Kaiser Permanente, Harris Corporation, AOL, Helsingin Energia, HP, Itaú, MassMutual Financial Group, Tieto, Capgemini and Verizon Wireless.
The GEIT Awards are open to applicants in all countries and are carefully judged by a committee of independent experts. Award winners for 2012 will be honored at the Uptime Institute Symposium (http://symposium.uptimeinstitute.com/) in Santa Clara, CA, May 14-17, 2012. The theme for this year’s event is Digital Infrastructure Convergence, with a Special Focus on Modular, Prefabricated and Containerized Data Centers.
As innovative leaders, GEIT Award winners are given the opportunity to share their accomplishments at Symposium; winners receive complimentary registrations to Symposium to present a case study, formal recognition during the GEIT Awards ceremony and numerous public relations benefits highlighting their vision and execution.
In 2012, the Institute invites applications in 8 categories:
• Facility Design – Innovation (http://symposium.uptimeinstitute.com/geit-awards/1427-facility-design-innovation)
• Facility Design – Implementation (http://symposium.uptimeinstitute.com/geit-awards/1431-facility-design-implementation)
• Facility Retrofit (http://symposium.uptimeinstitute.com/geit-awards/1432-facility-retrofit)
• IT Retrofit (http://symposium.uptimeinstitute.com/geit-awards/1433-it-retrofit)
• Facility Product Deployment (http://symposium.uptimeinstitute.com/geit-awards/1434-facility-product-deployment)
• IT Product Deployment (http://symposium.uptimeinstitute.com/geit-awards/1435-it-product-deployment)
• Modular Data Center Product Deployment (http://symposium.uptimeinstitute.com/geit-awards/1436-modular-data-center-product-deployment)
• Audacious Idea (http://symposium.uptimeinstitute.com/geit-awards/1437-audacious-idea)
To learn more about the GEIT Awards, visit our website (http://symposium.uptimeinstitute.com/geit-awards) or email us at GEIT@uptimeinstitute.com.
The competition closes at midnight PST, February 3, 2012. Applications require data that can take a few hours to gather, so we recommend you begin as soon as possible!
We look forward to learning about your project,
Uptime Institute
Green Enterprise IT Awards
GEIT@uptimeinstitute.com

We learn our skills in and out of the work place

September 19th, 2011

From time to time, I write a little about non-data center or energy things, just to mix it up and share with folks. Sometimes it is these blogs that generate the most interest and conversation from folks. Plus, I do believe that since we all work together, it’s nice to share some of our personal life with each other. After all, we are people working together based upon relationships, it is these things in our personal lives that drives us to work hard, and thus, they are essential parts of who we are as people and consequently, these personal things affect our daily work lives and relationships.

I also find that many of the things that I do in my personal life influence my work life. I’m sure we all find that at times, we reach an epiphany when walking the dog, talking to our spouse or friends, or some other activity that drives a decision or direction in our work the next day. I had one two weeks ago when talking with friends over dinner. But, that is not the topic of this blog.

Instead, it goes back another week but really starts when I was in college. I have always liked to push myself physically, and I get a lot out of those endorphins from a good physical challenge but also one with a mental challenge.

So I started mountain biking in college, riding longer and longer, more often and more often, until I was riding 365 days per year and training about 30+ hours per week. That on top of my 7-8 course load each semester (a consequence of earning multiple degrees simultaneously) and working part to full time year around. What can I say, I like to stay busy (also was on sports teams in addition to cycling, several clubs, an RA, etc, etc).

I then turned this “hobby” into training for races, became sponsored (it took me years to finish all those boxes of PowerBars I was provided), and finished races often in the top 10 out of hundreds or thousands of finishers. I earned enough points in my last year of racing and college to be in the top 10 nationally.

However, this, like many other hobbies, wasn’t my calling for a profession, and often hobbies and professions don’t mix very well. But I still get out to ride as often as I can and still love it. And do a race or two each year, purely for fun but also competitive. So on August 27th & 28th, I completed another 24-hour mountain bike race. I believe this is around my 6th, but I can’t remember nor have I been keeping track.

People ask how a 24 hour mountain bike race performs. Well, you ride a lap, usually about 10-15 miles long–which is usually takes about 45-90 minutes to finish–all on dirt, often much single track, climbs, descents, technical sections, fast sections, and complete as many laps as possible in 24 hours. Races can be completed as a solo team, or with up to 5 people on a team, trading off each lap in rotation, making each lap an all out sprint, then resting, downing as much water as your body can absorb, repairing your bike, recharging light batteries and trying to eat and sleep in the 45 min to 3 hour rest time before the next lap. Usually races start at about noon and end at noon the next day. Powerful bike light systems are used in the night laps, and the key is efficiency and speed while staying upright. Crashes not only hurt people–broken bones are quite common and sometimes trips in an ambulance for those racers that push their speed too fast for their ability at the time. Ability changes much after hours of riding, little sleep, little food, dehydration, and tired bodies. And especially at night when visibility is limited to a spot of light 5-20 feet in front of you as speeds exceed 30 mph in faster downhill and flat sections with still plenty of rocks, ditches and other obstacles to avoid.

The key to these races is to manage energy and speed to skill. Those that push too hard in the beginning of the race (a common mistake) or on any lap typically burn out before the race ends and either can’t finish it (often just finishing the race allows one to move up in the score board) or get hurt along the way.

So the key to 24-hour mountain bike racing is maintaining energy for 24 hours of riding with little sleep. It becomes somewhat of a mental game, especially in the late night laps. But even more so, a continual focus on the efficiency of every single pedal stroke–all 100,000 of them–and on the rest of the body, especially the lungs and heart. One must constantly “economize” while pushing their bike and self as hard (and consequently fast) as possible up every hill, down every descent, and around every lap to maintain the fastest average lap time. So any one slow lap kills the average, and hence, efficiency with the greatest speed. My lap times varied by less than 10%, even though temperatures ranged by 50 degrees F, some were in full sun, some in full dark; some with heavy traffic of other racers, some with passing  another racer only every 15 minutes; some with full energy, and last lap with maybe an hour of sleep over 24 hours, little food, and likely mild dehydration and most certainly tired legs and body, and even one with a mechanical and another with a flat tire.

In the data centers I design, efficiency doesn’t change much between hot and cold weather, day and night, packed full or empty of servers, mechanical failures or perfect operations. The key is being as efficient as possible all the time, not matter the adversity. It’s all about economizing and energy efficiency, just as my continuous focus in designing and operating data centers. I love it!

Here is a video of my most recent 24-hour race, the Coolest 24-Hours, which took place end of August in Soda Springs, CA (Donner Summit area of the Sierras). The race raised money for those dealing with cancer. In this video, I am the first rider out of the start of the 24 hour racers, wearing silver jersey, black and yellow cycling shorts with USD on the side (I still fit in my college cycling team shorts almost two decades later), red single speed 29″ Niner bike. I enjoyed being in first place for about the first mile before some of the racers pass me. You can see me do a little jump off the pavement start onto the dirt and also my buddy and fellow racer Stewart do the same in his third place position with red & white Niner Bikes jersey. I posted a photo of my aunt along the course–who died of cancer not long ago–which many photos of survivors and victims can be seen staked in the ground at the first turn. I finished the race with a smile, a dirty face, a dusty body, a respectable finish, and another lesson in efficiency. Enjoy the video and getting out to learn more! Here is the video: The Coolest 24 Hours, 2011–KC leads the pack at the start of the 24 hour race

The Olivier Sanche Tree and Room @ eBay

September 18th, 2011

This week I had the pleasure of not only flying on 8 Southwest flights in one week–I believe this may be a new record for me of flights in one week on the same airline–but I also had the pleasure and privilege to tour ebay’s Topaz data center.

While we all know that I wouldn’t release any confidential data. Having been in the data center industry now for well over a decade, worked for Yahoo, Google, Sun, BEA, and completed large data center projects for financial institutions, banks, government entities, educational and research entities, Facebook, Equinix, and many others, I know and understand the importance and value to not only my reputation but also the importance of maintaining other’s confidential information. So, I will not share anything more about the data center—you can learn from what is already available from public sources.

However, I do want to comment on one item that I did see which does not have any confidentiality tied to it—the Olivier Sanche Memorial Tree and conference room. It touched me very much. Olivier and I were working on a project and talking just literally two days before he passed. Olivier and I were the exact same age. His job at Apple was essentially the same as mine at Yahoo. And at the time he passed, we were both running fast, traveling to many countries, several continents and states each month. We were trying to do everything we could to support our growing data center demand at the lowest cost and the highest energy efficiency as possible, and to help the industry achieve more as well by collaborating, sharing and guiding. And just as he touched my heart and those of many others in the data center industry, he managed to be the best dad possible.

While I enjoyed touring the ebay data center, it was the moment I spent reading Olivier’s memorial against the now small tree yet growing in size to eventually become a large icon in the entrance of this facility. It was that moment under this tree, and reading the memorial, that I once again remembered Olivier, and the touching reminder of how he touched many.

I applaud the fine folks for the very kind memorial to Olivier—we should all strive to support each other, work together, collaborate, and most of all, enjoy each other’s company. Not get out there and do something good today.