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Niobrara Energy Park – Could it be the model for data center sustainability?

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IDC Architects
Jeff Cross
Director of Business Development,
IDC Architects (a CH2M HILL company)

Andy Solberg
Technical Advisor

Data centers, facilities used to house computer systems and associated IT components, play a larger role in modern day life than ever before. Around the world, as governments, businesses, and individuals alike become increasingly dependent on technology, reliance upon faraway data centers is also growing rapidly. This means the data centers of the future must not only be extremely reliable, but also possess robust and layered security, critical to managing the risk of sabotage, industrial espionage, theft, terrorism, and natural disaster.

If this sounds elaborate, you’re right. Data centers are intricately designed facilities that generally include backup power supplies, redundant data connections, security devices, and environmental controls. If all of that sounds energy intensive, you’re right again. Today, large scale data centers operate using as much electricity as a small town. In fact, data centers currently consume more than 2% of all electricity generated in the United States.

Reducing and greening that energy consumption is exactly the kind of challenge CH2M HILL is collaborating to make possible. In northern Colorado, CH2M HILL’s IDC Architects team is working with Niobrara Energy Park (NEP) LLC to create the nation’s first hybrid natural gas/renewable data center park in the nation. With long-term sustainability in mind, CH2M HILL is partnering to create Niobrara Data Center Energy Park – a cutting edge 640-acre, sustainable data center park that will be home to next generation data centers and technologies yet to be invented.

Niobrara Energy Park: Wind
Niobrara Energy Park: Solar

From beginning research and analysis to conceptual planning and design, no opportunity for increased sustainability has been overlooked. To start, the NEP site has been carefully considered and selected for its climate, security, access to urban assets, and proximity to key energy and network resources. The location is excellent for the leverage of renewable power generation, such as wind and solar. And the cool, dry Colorado climate also increases sustainable opportunities by decreasing resource consumption for facility cooling. In addition, NEP is located in a relatively low hazard zone and has low risk of natural disaster, which increases operational reliability and lowers the risk of rebuild expenditures.

Taking sustainability measures even further, the conceptual master plan developed by CH2M HILL recommends innovative resource management methods, such as recommending that NEP contain its own microgrid. By coordinating energy generation and consumption, an onsite microgrid will provide greater efficiency, reliability, security, and environmental benefit.

The list of innovative methods and systems leading NEP to the forefront go on and on and CH2M HILL is proud to be a part of this exciting project. A report recently conducted by Pike Research asserts that NEP is the largest planned grid-backed microgrid in the world. When finished, NEP is expected to house 1.5 million square feet of data centers, a 200-megawatt clean natural gas plant, a 20-megawatt solar farm, and a utility-scale fuel cell farm.

To learn more about this exciting project, download a copy of the Blue Book here. Due to the large file size, a link will be sent to your e-mail address.