UT, Japan Partner on Energy Efficiency

UT Austin, Japan Energy Data Center Collaboration

You know the feeling: The anxiety you get when your smartphone notifies you that you have 10 percent battery remaining. So you rush to plug it in. But as your device slowly crawls back to a full charge, you fail to notice something that has become commonplace. The charger feels warm, and it’s only getting hotter. If you do notice, you likely ignore it—the charger always gets hot when you use it for a longer period of time. This is actually a sign of significant energy loss.

Today’s “smart” electronics run on DC, or a direct current, but traditional electricity in power grids are on AC, or alternative current. Adapters must run through several conversions to transform power from AC to DC, so when chargers for your smartphone or computer start to feel hot, that’s not normal. It’s energy inefficiency.

Now UT-Austin and the Japanese government are teaming up to improve energy efficiency on a much bigger scale than just our personal machines: in data centers, facilities which house high-performance computers that analyze and store information.

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) will receive $13 million in funding from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), Japan’s largest public R&D management organization, as well as support from NEDO contractor NTT Facilities Inc, a renowned IT design and construction company.    

With additional infrastructure like a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) power distribution system and a solar farm, the goals are to reduce AC to DC conversions by half, promote direct power, and encourage the use of renewable energy.

While a new TACC building is now under construction at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus, changes brought by the project are set to start on servers in the fall and will be completed in the spring. A one-year demonstration will follow, with plans to improve energy efficiency by 15 percent by experimenting on a capacity of 250 kilowatts. Currently, the data center draws 3-4 megawatts per day and costs millions of dollars each year to power.

The partnership was finalized last Tuesday when Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos and NEDO executive director Fumio Ueda signed a memorandum of understanding, while UT president Greg Fenves and NTTF’s senior executive vice president Atushi Ichihoshi signed an implementation document. At an Aug. 11 press conference, consul-general Nozomu Takaoka called the university a fitting choice.

“Everything is bigger in Texas—even the future is bigger for Japan-Texas relations,” Takaoka said. “My observation is that there are three great advantages for this bigger future: Texas’ geographic centrality in the United States, its huge potential in the field of energy, and the strong technology exchange between both countries.”

While negotiations started in summer 2014, the project’s debut is particularly timely considering the Obama administration’s executive order calling for a national strategic computing initiative in late July. According to TACC Director Dan Stanzione, about 90 million megwatts per year goes to large-scale data centers in the U.S., or 20 percent nationwide in 2014. Stanzione said that data and computation are inexplicably linked in modern science and engineering.

“Here at TACC we already have over 40 petabytes of data for our various science users around the country that they store here,” he said, noting how simulations, big telescopes, and gene sequencers are common tools in big data research. “Much of future science will rely on having this data co-located with large computing.”

Photo courtesy of the University of Texas at Austin.


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