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A new crop of sensors for keeping data centers cool

A million square feet is a lot to air condition. SynapSense's sensors measure temperature, pressure and other environmental factors on a continuous basis.

Some large corporations now have a million square feet worth of floor space dedicated to data centers.

It's a factoid that Peter Van Deventer, CEO of SynapSense and a former Intel exec, likes to fling out. The company, which evolved from research at UC Davis, makes software and sensors for mapping out the weather in data centers. The sensors measure temperature, pressure and other environmental factors on a continuous basis.

Data center owners can then take this data and tweak their air conditioning and cooling systems. Soon, the SynapSense's technology will also be able to automatically control the cooling systems.

Potentially, the system can cut energy bills in data centers by 30 percent, according to the company. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will use the system to create energy efficiency benchmarks. Van Deventer asserts that the company has an advantage over other sensor companies because it makes both the software and the hardware for its system.

The SynapSense system is geared toward data centers that are 10,000 square feet or bigger. (That million figure, by the way, is cumulative.). Van Deventer says that the company's technology will be sold to plants for LCD manufacturing or chip manufacturing.

Energy efficiency is one of the principal markets in clean technology. Two of the more significant clean tech IPOs this year--EnerNoc and Comverge--both specialize in energy efficiency.

Corporations have been particularly keen in testing technologies that will help them cut their energy costs in data centers. In August, the EPA issued a report today that said that energy consumed by data centers in the U.S. could rise to 100 billion kilowatt hours a year in 2011, a big jump from the 61 kilowatt hours consumed by data centers last year. Without changes or improvements in efficiency, the increase will require ten additional power plants. That 100 billion kilowatt hours will cost $7.4 billion.

Overall, data centers accounted for 1.5 percent of the total electricity used in the states. (Lighting takes up around 22 percent, according to the Department of Energy.) Data centers last year gobbled up more electricity than all of the color TVs in the U.S. last year, or about the same as 5.8 million households, according to the EPA.

Cooling is a big part. Roughly half of the energy consumed by data centers gets dedicated to air conditioners. By channeling cool air where it needs to go, the energy required for the air conditioners goes down.

Other technologies for cooling down data centers (and hence reducing air conditioning) involve systems that use liquid-filled tubes to suck heat away from churning servers. Dell recently signed a deal with Emerson Network Power under which Dell will sell Emerson's liquid cooling systems. Hewlett-Packard and IBM have similar systems.

The company has landed $10 million in venture funds from, among others, DFJ Frontier and Nth Power.