Can the Cooling of Electronic Systems Actually Increase our Energy Usage?

There’s plenty of talk about the amount of energy a data center uses and how important it is to cool those facilities properly.  But data centers are based on systems and it is the aggregate cooling of those systems from the semiconductor junction upward that is the sum total of the issue.  But could the actual cooling of those facilities cause an increase in energy usage?   The answer is yes and Dr. Al Ortega, a former coolingZONE Summit speaker has some important ideas on this topic.

In a paper he presented at IEEE Semi-Therm 28, “The Energy Costs of Cooling Electronic Systems”.  Al points out that:

  •  Most thermal engineers tightly focused on the cooling of electronics but rarely consider the energy costs of those solutions.
  • Making systems smaller, such as 1U or smaller servers and switches can actually increase energy usage, due to the fact that the pressure drop across grills and boards must be matched by
  • The lack of built in recovery means that most cooling strategies cool effectively but never recover and reuse the energy used for the cooling.
  • There are hidden costs to standard, air cooled heat exchanges (heat sinks) that may not be considered currently by most thermal engineers.  Indeed, from Dr. Ortega’s work he has found that using air cooling through extruded aluminum parallel plate heat sinks is an example of extreme cost thermal design
  • Cooling with plain old heat sinks is a low cost component approach but is filled with hidden energy costs in the aggregate.  When we start considering data centers and the rise of cloud computing, this cost is hidden but real.

Al has many more excellent insights in his presentation and we hope  you take a read. The intersection of thermal management and energy recovery is with our industry.  Click the graphic below to reach this presentation on Villanova University’s website, where Dr. Ortega teachs. You can also read the presentation in this post, just scroll down to the embedded PDF.