Data centers are the gas (and water) guzzlers of buildings. Those fueling the huge data center construction market are starting to do something about that. In May, HP Labs unveiled a so-called net-zero-energy-use architecture that it claims can cut power use by 30% and dependence on grid power by more than 80%. This week, Skanska's data center group and Inertech, a start-up maker of data-center server modules, held a media briefing to roll out a modular data center strategy that relies on what they say is a revolutionary new approach to cooling.

Inertech says its new cooling technology platform can reduce water use by 80 to 90% in standard building and power-production cooling, as well as dramatically reduce the power consumed to cool the information technology and computing systems in data centers.

According to Skanska and Inertech, a typical chiller and associated pumps use 90 W to cool a typical 300 W server—one of thousands in a large-scale data center. By contrast, the chiller equivalent in the Inertech cooling platform uses 0.5 W. That's 180 times better.

I've been covering energy conservation in buildings since 1977—when the first energy crisis hit. I am a cynic on the subject because of so much hype about this solution and that. In the late 1980s, when gas prices stabilized, energy (and water) conservation went on the back burner—like Rip Van Winkle in sleep mode—for about 20 years. Then, with the second coming of escalating energy costs, everyone's pockets started emptying once again. And the die-hard conservationists got everyone's attention.

Back to Skanska and Inertech. The first deployment of the technology, for which Inertech just received a patent, is on a project in Quebec, for TELUS. The data center starts up next month.

But data centers are just a first step. The cooling system can be adapted to all building types. That's the game changer.

Stay tuned for more on the Skanska-Inertech system in the pages of ENR.