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Here, the Met Office discuss a UK carbon emissions & cost reducing success story with Govtoday

The Problem:

Data Centres have a reputation for consuming significantly more energy than other buildings of a similar size and are often named, and shamed, as being globally responsible for a sizeable percentage of the worlds CO² emissions. This is mainly as a result of the excessive heat produced by the large quantities of computer servers & equipment housed at the Data Centres, and the fact that reducing temperatures in IT systems of this size consumes a lot of power in running cooling processes such as air conditioning or pumping chilled water. The issues for Data Centres are clear; high energy expenditure, running costs & carbon footprint.

The Met Office in Exeter could be described as a Data Centre but they do not only house servers.  In addition Met Office is home to Super Computer Halls which house many physically large IBM Super Computers delivering trillions of calculations a second for Met Office weather forecasting operations. These machines generate a huge amount of heat and the need to cool the computers in a more energy efficient manner, and reduce energy expenditure, lead the Met Office Building Maintenance Team to investigate alternatives to the traditionally air cooled systems; Pipex CAT Free Cooling Systems were selected by Met Office as the ideal carbon abatement technology (CAT) solution.

The Solution:

From the outset of this project Geoff Hooper, Met Office Head of Technical Services, and Dave Jenkins, Met Office Works Project Manager sourced expert local manufacturers & designers with a proven track record of “green” engineering, to collaborate with on designing an energy efficient, cost reducing, Free Cooling CAT solution for the Met Office HQ based in Exeter, UK.

Pipex Limited were appointed as Main Contractors for the design and build of the free cooling system, fully supported by their design partners GPJ Design Consultants, who together offered unrivalled experience for delivering innovative engineered solutions to public and private blue-chip clients alike. From the offset all parties worked in close co-operation with the Met Office to devise a chilled water “free cooling” solution, bespoke to Met Office needs.

This chilled water free cooling method involves a closed loop pumped circuit of pipe work which carries chilled water into the Super Computer Halls, and through specifically designed IBM flexible hoses which enter into the computers themselves.  The cooling of the water occurs on the roof where mounted evaporative coolers (chillers) are installed.  The water is pumped through the system into the roof chillers where it is routed through a coiled pipe section.  There is a small reservoir of water in the bottom of the chillers which feeds a sprinkler system within the roof which constantly sprays the coiled pipe and chills it to the required temperature.  Dependant on the outside environmental conditions there is also an electric fan within the chillers, which comes into effect if required during hot weather.

Initially when the project was conceived and prior to the detailed design commencing, an outturn cost of approx £640k was anticipated with an annual heat recovery figure of 4,400,000 kWh being forecast. Taking running and maintenance costs into account a conservative simple payback of four years was anticipated.

With these estimated figures in hand the job was outlined to develop a design guaranteed to give this payback. This involved a detailed analysis of historical half hourly Met Office weather data together with very in depth design discussions with the evaporative chiller manufacturers.

With the persuasive payback information in hand the Met Office approached DECC (the Department of Energy & Climate Change) for a grant to carry out the work. Applying and securing Government funding can be a lengthy procedure but at the end of November 2009 the funding was issued and the project commenced.

Communication & Organisation:

From a Project Managers perspective in addition to the complexities of installing a system involving water in immediate proximity to Super Computers there was also a tight timescale imposed that had to be adhered to.  A great deal of the preliminary work was already complete so once the funding came through the Met Office Project Team knew the completion date of the 31st March 2010 was finite.

Geoff Hooper and Dave Jenkins, were tasked with adhering to the Met Office ethos of delivering this project “on time, in full.”

Dave Jenkins commented “The key ingredient to success was effective in depth communication. There were a total of 28 organisations represented on the project from scaffolders to structural engineers. The shear number of people on site in potentially the same location needed very careful management so we set up a temporary project office inside the Met Office HQ building and ran the project from there.  We used appropriate PRINCE2®   methods when required but the pace of the project dictated a light approach to formal documentation.  Much more emphasis was given to talking directly to those involved each day. We set up progress meetings daily - 5 minutes duration, and standing up - with more formal project meetings each week with Pipex Limited the main contractor. “Issues were resolved immediately with the project manager given the latitude to make the necessary decisions for successful delivery. The Met Office Project board let the appointed team take charge and run the project on the promise of being regularly updated on progress.”

Met Office were instrumental in agreeing technical improvements to the scheme including the specification for all stainless steel components in the chillers. Special steel work frames and supports were developed to allow the evaporative chillers to be placed on the roof without disruption to any other services. The reason for this was to ensure the plant was extra reliable, maintenance free and built to last many years. Pipex Limited, an ISO14001 company, operated a 100% recycle scheme for all project waste.

The integrity of the entire system was paramount, all plant components susceptible to corrosion were carefully designed out. Pipex Limited who are a specialist thermoplastic manufacturer fabricated and installed the unique High Density Polyethylene pipe system which guaranteed a corrosion free smooth bore pipe network.

The building phase of the work culminated crane-lifting 10 tonnes of steel frame and chillers onto each roof.  Geoff Hooper from the Met Office reported the design to be “millimeter perfect, the bolts just dropped through the holes right into place.”

On time, in full, the project was completed exactly to the specified deadline.

The Met Office celebrated the success with the main contractor and as Dave Jenkins stated.  “In summary, the project was successful because we engaged competent and experienced contractors with a track-record of success. The project board managed by exception and the technical lead was always on hand. The project manager was competent and experienced. We applied a standard project management method understood by all, and everyone involved in the project, no matter at what level, understood what they needed to do and when they needed to do it.”

The Carbon & Cost Savings Results:

Early running figures for the month of May 2010 have far surpassed expectations of the system, by returning a cumulative saving in energy of 392,000 kWh over a period of 17 days. Further fine tuning of the system will take place over the next 12 months to build up the optimum running profile. Based on early estimations, an energy saving of 6,500,000 kWh is now predicted over the next 12 months.  This equates to an approximate simple payback period of 3½ years saving on average £562 per day at current market electricity rates.

Phase 2 of the Met Office programme involves increasing the supercomputer facility further so that additional cooling requirement to approximately 1300 kW will be necessary. The Free Cooling system will therefore need to increase it's contribution to computer cooling water flow and return temperatures to 20/26.2 Deg C. It is believed the system as installed will already cope with the extra demand. This now offers greater scope for the evaporative chillers to operate at even higher ambient temperatures. A recalculation predicts an even quicker return on investment.

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Written by Best Practice   
Monday, 08 August 2011 14:55
Last Updated on Monday, 08 August 2011 15:51

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