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Burn coal, or improve your datacenter, says EPA

Servers chew up power. They could run on less

We're facing a choice, says the Environmental Protection Agency: build more energy efficient data centers or choke on fumes.

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.

Data centers aren't the largest consumers of electricity in the country. In 2006, the power chewed up by them only came to 1.5 percent of the total. (Lighting takes up around 22 percent, according to the Department of Energy.). Still, 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.

The EPA added that adopting existing technologies-- virtualization, better power converters or cooling systems or even solar-powering data centers--could reduce the load by 25 percent with existing technologies. Several companies are coming up with tech for this market. Conceivably, power efficiency technologies could reduce electrical consumption by 55 percent in 2011. That would prevent 47 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.