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FOCUS COVER FEATURE


Issue 22, June 2012


THE POWER BUYER


KC Mares bought energy for the public Internet’s first wave, and today finds himself preparing to power the next one. By Yevgeniy Sverdlik


he how-to book for building data centers and buying energy to run them was only written over the past 17 years or so. The process continues, of course, but whatever has been written so far has been done by a handful of key companies and key people that have worked there. One of the people that had to make it up as they went along was KC Mares.


T Mares is well-known in the data center


industry for his work as chair of the data center efficiency program at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), a prominent high- tech industry organization founded in the late 1970s by HP’s David Packard. He is one of the industry’s most vociferous spokespeople for energy efficiency and sustainability. There are two reaons he speaks out. The first is his concern for the environment; the second is that since the late 1990s he has directed the way some of the high-tech world’s biggest names have bought and used energy.


Mares directed energy Sun Microsystems in the management at late 1990s, led


Yahoo!’s data center strategy in 2007 and 2008 and, as director of energy, saw Exodus Communications, the company that arguably started the colocation business, balloon and burst together with the dot-com bubble. He has overseen operations of Google’s first company-owned dedicated data center and consulted Equinix on energy procurement for data centers and energy efficiency. The list goes on.


Christina Page, global director of Yahoo!’s energy and sustainability strategy and his former colleague, says Mares is as good at practicing data center energy efficiency as he is at being a public spokesman for it, always making sure to link back to sustainability instead of just focusing on the economics. “He’s got a genuine love and concern for the environment,” she says.


A LOT OF LAND, A LOT OF POWER Mares’ latest


project is Reno Technology


Park (RTP), a massive data center park under development in Nevada, promising customers


22 www.datacenterdynamics.com KC Mares – the Internet’s power buyer


long-term renewable and natural-gas-fueled power purchase agreements for very low rates (see box-out p24). He is CTO and one of four primary partners in Unique Infrastructure Group, the project’s developer.


At the time of our interview with Mares – May 2012 – construction had commenced on a number of data centers at RTP for end-users that had signed up. While the park is being heavily marketed for data center use, it is not only for data centers. The team has had discussions with manufacturers of electric- vehicle batteries, chip fabricators and other high-tech businesses. It really is suitable for any energy-intensive business that needs a reliable power supply, Mares says.


SHIFTING THE REAL COST OF COAL


A large portion of the fuel mix behind power RTP offers is natural gas, whose abundance in the US today has made it very cheap.


Mares is a strong believer in the future of natural gas, which has a lot to do with the looming shut-down of a big chunk of all coal-fired generation capacity in the US. This prediction comes from a 2010 report by Bernstein Research. It concludes that 15% of all coal capacity may come offline by 2015,


and, taking into account the amount of new coal plants expected to come online within that timeframe, coal-fueled generation in the country may fall by a net 9%.


This is because there are new federal coal-plant pollution regulations and a lot of old coal-fired plants. Utilities would rather shut these plants down than pay to upgrade them to comply with the regulations. Jon Koomey, consulting professor at Stanford University and expert on energy-use and its impact on the environment, says these plants are not as efficient as the latest coal plants will be. “They’re being run because they’re cheap to run,” he says. That is, they’re cheap to run to the utilities, while imposing health costs on society. “Utilities aren’t paying that price,” Koomey says. It is “the old people and the little kids who are paying now. If you make the utilities pay, they’ll start cleaning up their act.”


Regardless of which side of the pollution- regulation issue you’re on, the US is about to lose a lot of its current generation capacity. Fewer coal-fired plants may translate into higher energy rates, Mares says, which is why the abundance of natural gas is so attractive. “Gas is our best bet for some time to come,” he says.


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