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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine


Power Partners

UTSA and Microsoft establish a sustainable energy research-and-development pact

With the goal of developing technologies to make computer data centers more energy efficient and economically viable, UTSA and Microsoft Corp. have begun a three-year research agreement. Microsoft has also made a $1 million gift to support university research and technology programs.

“Our objective is to bring together technology, economics and commercialization to create an intelligent energy system,” says C. Mauli Agrawal, UTSA vice president for research. “We want to identify economically viable technologies that will reduce the environmental footprint of data centers.”

The multidisciplinary research will focus on expanding business opportunities for new distributed energy technology that reduces energy consumption and emissions, improves reliability and contributes to sustainable energy.

Microsoft is investing $250 million in a new 256,000-square-foot data center next door to its existing 427,000-square-foot facility in San Antonio. To have more control over the needed energy supply for the data center, the tech giant is working to address not only how electricity is used and distributed inside data centers but also how consumption of electricity affects the broader grid.

Working with UTSA on energy solutions will enable the company to expand its commitment to optimizing for efficiency inside the facility as well as its global data center portfolio. Additional benefits will be realized in integrating and investing in driving greater sustainability and scalable efficiencies in the broader energy supply chain.

“Distributed generation represents a major shift in the energy sector that will dramatically change how data centers operate,” Brian Janous, director of energy strategy at Microsoft, told attendees gathered for the announcement of the agreement in 2014. “The leadership of the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute at UTSA and the city of San Antonio were instrumental in bringing this research to a community like San Antonio.”

Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in order to adequately cool and maintain the computer servers they house. As companies’ needs for data centers continue to rise, this research agreement between UTSA and Microsoft is a step toward finding sustainable solutions to enhance the overall performance of these facilities and reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.

“Data center power use is already at 2 percent to 3 percent of total U.S. power consumption, and the growth curve is exponential,” says Dwain Rogers, transportation and policy research director at the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute, which will be overseeing much of the research on the project. “Microsoft knows it’s going to have to build a lot of data centers. It knows data centers cost quite a lot of money. And it knows that the average data center is increasing in size. You put all of that together, and it means you have an enormous power bill. And you have an increasing environmental footprint. For both of those reasons, Microsoft is very interested in creating their data center of the future.”

Established in 2010 at UTSA, the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute serves as a catalyst for coalescing the many energy research and education projects under way at the university. Specializing in the areas of energy, water and sustainability, the institute maintains strong partnerships with San Antonio public utility CPS Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, private energy companies and other universities and nonprofits.

“Research partnerships like this are a game changer for UTSA and San Antonio,” UTSA President Ricardo Romo says. “They enable UTSA to conduct innovative research in sustainable energy while positioning the city on the global business stage.”



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