HP Labs, the research arm of computer technology giant Hewlett-Packard,is giving back to the environment. The lab has set a goal to develop a method for designing and operating a data center that would consume no net energy from the public utility grid over the lifetime of the facility.

"This would take into account the building's embedded energy and operational energy," says Cullen Bash, director of ecosustainable systems for HP Labs, Palo Alto, Calif.

For the project to be a success, the data center would have to have a two-year payback period for the up-front investment in net-zero energy-use systems and, all the while, meet its service-level requirements. The data center is expected to use 30% less energy than most and reduce dependence on the grid by 90%.

The team's guiding principles include right-sizing the renewable power source, minimizing operations using a software methodology and implementing demand management regarding grid-power pricing.

"If you have a data center that peaks at 1 MW of power but only runs at the peak for a short period, it doesn't make sense to size the renewable power for the peak," says Bash. Right-sizing enables a two-year payback.

For the research, the team developed algorithms for a given power source to predict power output, cooling resources, demand and other relevant factors.

Bash says the next step is to execute the workload in a containerized 1.2-MW data center—a product made by HP. The project is going to wrap up late next year. After that, HP likely will take over. The ultimate goal is to bring a net-zero data center unit to market.