energy consumption, environment, solar, sustainability
Comments Off on SPRINTER Solar Goes Live

I am happy to say that after many challenges, we were able to turn on the SPRINTER solar system today.This system was funded by the ARRA Transit Investments in Greenhouse Gas Reductions (TIGGER) grant.  It is approximately 225 kw, and should offset almost 30% of the power needs for the facility – which is a good thing as the SPRINTER Maintenance facility draws more power than any other site at NCTD.


This project ran into many complications, not the least of which was the need to repair the facility roof.  We could have made the decision to compromise on the quantity of panels at the facility, but I think we made the right choice to go ahead and fix a facility that is a mission-critical site for the agency.


We also faced the significant challenge of putting panels in an area that is designated as a bioswale for retention of water and prevention of nonpoint source pollution runoff.  In order to protect that purpose, we  had to replace the irrigation system and all of the vegetation with something more suitable to the new environmental conditions.  The added benefit is that is allows us to cut our water consumption by over 25% at the site.


I want to say a big thank you to Dan Harding and Seth Worden at Transit America, and to Josh Beeson at Martifer Solar.

data center, energy consumption, green computing, sustainability
Comments Off on APTA Presentation on Building a Sustainable Data Center

I’ve uploaded my APTA presentation about building a sustainable data center to slideshare if anyone is interested.  Clearly NCTD is a pioneer in the transit industry, even if building a sustainable data center is cliche in other industries.  Not one participant in the room had added sustainability as a design criteria when building their data centers.  We’ll see if I made any impression with the community on this issue.

data center, green computing, sustainability
Comments Off on Materials Posting #2: Toilets, Taps and Trees

photo courtesy this is our selected toilet for the datacenter.

Well today was an interesting meeting with our LEED consultant Brandon Smith.  Based on our meeting, it is clear that specific LEED requirements for data centers do not yet exist.  As a result, we’re pursuing a classification for an Interior Space (for reference, the requirements are here).  There are a few items from this list that simply do not apply to data centers, but are ‘gatekeepers’ that must be addressed in order for us to pursue any certification.


The first of these is that no part of the interior space up for LEED certification can be cooled by a CFC-based air handling system.  Unfortunately our building was constructed years before the non-CFC requirements came into practice and therefore the majority of the facility is in fact in violation of this requirement.  However, we had previously installed two CFC-free air conditioners dedicated for the data center.  Our original plan was to reuse these air conditioners to supplement the cooling in our board room; however, given the LEED requirements we are now going to use one air conditioner for the ambient air handling in the Data Center commercial space, and the other for the Board room.  Had we not possessed these air conditioning units, this would have been the end of pursuing LEED for us.


The second set of requirements that are unforeseen gatekeepers are those around reduction in water use.  Interestingly, we use absolutely no water in the data center as none of our equipment is water-cooled.  We made the mistaken assumption that no water use would be considered a good thing.  We were wrong.  As a result, we are now forced to add in the public shared spaces on the floor for consideration in the commercial space, and then to show not only a reduction down to the required baseline water usage, but then an incremental reduction from the baseline.


Again, this is an older facility, so we have older toilets and water fixtures.  So Mr. Smith is now working on the 5 toilets, 2 urinals, and 5 water faucets we will need to replace to be considered for certification.  I am wondering how the price will impact my overall return on investment calculation.  The cost for the LEED certification itself is approximately $15,000, and now the incremental cost of the water use reduction could be an additional $5,000.   I will refrain from discussing how this is a crappy situation.


To answer this question, I made the decision that logically we would want to spend no more than 1 advertising campaign would cost.  This would be the net cost – in other words, if the LEED portion of this project costs us $20,000 to go through the process, and if our average advertising campaign costs us $5000, then in order to have a $0 incremental cost the investments through LEED would need to save $15,000 through their total lifetime in order to justify the expenditure.  My logic here is that by successfully obtaining an LEED certification for a commercial interior space – the first such certification for NCTD, and for northern San Diego County – I would likely be generating some press and attention through the investment perhaps equivalent to one small marketing push.  The rest of the investment must be justified by some other tangible return.


Brandon and I are working on this question now.  Just for edification, here are the other items we’re considering in order to meet the basic LEED certification requirements:

  • Designating some of our parking spaces for carpools or vanpools
  • Reusing our interior door from the project instead of purchasing a new one
  • Measuring the Solar Reflective Index of the concrete around the building
  • Measuring the shade of the trees on the parking lot


To be fair, I understand the need to consider the overall building in this project.   Given that this is a ‘green data center’ that we are building inside of an existing and rather dated facility, the task of addressing all of the needs of LEED may be insurmountable.  Especially considering my desire to also establish the business case for the project beyond the tangible benefits of the data center itself.  In other words – building the case for green instead of conventional data center practice.


Once we have finished the complete ROI analysis, I will post.  Until then, dual flush or low flow?  That is the question…

data center, green computing, renewable materials, sustainability
Comments Off on Materials for the Data Center: Floor and Ceiling

Now that we’ve faced down the crises from our various storms these last two weeks, the team can again turn attention to the final elements of planning around the NCTD data center project.  Our current data center has an elevated floor and a standard office dropped ceiling; however, the physical constraints of the room prevented installing either of these at their recommended heights.  The raised floor is very shallow, and does not provide enough space to be utilized for air handling.  In fact, the primary original purpose of the raised floor was to allow for piping for the fire suppression system.


The floor has no routing or conduit for cabling, resulting in a haphazard approach to cabling in the room:  some racks have cabling in ad-hoc runs constructed above racks, while other systems have random cables under the floor.  This resulted in a relative rats’ nest of cables discovered as we temporarily relocated some of the systems this month.


Originally we investigated re-using the raised floor; however, to accomnmodate the growth in equipment we desired to extend the room by 2.5 feet resulting in the need to procure raised flooring for another 50 sq ft.  The original manufacturer does not exist anymore, and the product was not something we were able to find on the open market.  I am frankly happy that we were unable to locate a suitable product to go with this system, as it is simply not ideal for our situation.


This work resulted in the team deciding to remove both the existing ceiling and flooring systems.  Our installation approach now is to instead install electrostatic dissipative (ESD) tiles on the subfloor, and a new dropped ceiling system that will provide for a more logical approach to cabling, air handling, and fire suppression.


My first stop in researching materials was again the US Green Building Council website, which described a program from the Resilient Floor Covering Institute(RFCI) called FloorScore.  Much like the scores provided around sustainable forestry processes, the RFCI FloorScore provides guidelines and a mechanism for an independent assessment (through Scientific Certification Systems) of the volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from the materials.  Similar to the VOCs from paints, floor and ceiling tiles – and other industrial products – can come with a large VOC emissions load.  From both sustainability and worker comfort perspectives, choosing products with low VOCs are preferable where possible.


In addition to low VOC, we’re requiring that the selected products contain a substantial percentage of recycled or renewable materials.  We also would like to work with a company that will allow us to recycle all of the flooring and ceiling material from the existing room.


Surprisingly, there are now a wide variety of products on the market that will meet all of our needs, from ESD, to material composition, to recycling services.  My original fear that was in requiring the additional environmental criteria, we would be facing a substantial increase in the project cost.  However, that has not proven to be the case.  Instead we’ve discovered a wide array of companies that have embraced the need for these products and who are delivering a variety of choices to the marketplace.


We have selected a flooring product manufactured by Armstrong for our project.  Not only do these products meet all of the above criteria, but one of their manufacturing facilities is within 500 miles of the NCTD project site.


The purpose of this posting isn’t to market the specific product we’ve selected, but to instead point out that it was possible for us to impose additional purchasing criteria on the project, find products that met the criteria, and to do so in a manner that did not substantially increase our costs.


Our purchasing criteria included:

  • Must meet all anti-static or static dissipative requirements for a data center
  • Must contain at least 15% recycled materials (would prefer higher percentage)
  • Must be FloorScore certified
  • Desirable to be sourced within 500 miles of the project site
  • Must have low VOC emissions

Dig Deeper


There are a wide array of manufacturers who provide flooring and ceiling products designed specifically to address both the needs of a data center and the environmental purchasing criteria we selected.  Rather than providing product links, instead I would encourage that people review the RFCI and USGBC sites for information about establishing the appropriate criteria for your project.

hardware, sustainability
Comments Off on How Geeky is This?

by Angela Miller
Apologies while I divert for a moment and show off one of my green-geek-toys:  my completely ridiculous electric bicycle.  This may seem a strange investment for someone who already owns a hybrid car and has a mere 15 miles to commute to the office. 

I completely embrace the fact that this is as my son says “gooby”.  I had grandiose plans of riding my regular bicycle either to the train station or all the way to the office, but after a couple of aborted trials I am free to admit that I am simply too out of shape for such folly.

But this bicycle makes me laugh as I ride.  My neighborhood is very hilly, but a little crank on my throttle and the little electric motor helps me to easily reach the tops of the hills.  And it folds – it folds!  It has been a great conversation starter on the train as it definitely looks different than your regular bike.

So while I am not likely to ride this everyday like a good eco-junkie would, I do think I’ll use it a couple of times a week down to my local SPRINTER light rail station.