Solar Systems

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 07-11-2006

What's the greenest big-company data center? It may be the Urbana, Md., facility opened by Fannie Mae in August 2005. The building was the first of its kind to earn certification for energy and environmental design from the U.S. Green Building Council. It is designed to consume 20 percent less energy than a comparable facility, in part by using daylight to reduce lighting costs and energy-efficient equipment to reduce energy costs, and is built of environmentally friendly materials.

But compared to the operations of a small California company called Affordable Internet Services Online Inc., the Fannie Mae center is an energy hog. AISO is completely solar-powered, courtesy of 120 solar panels, although it also maintains a large bank of batteries and a generator in case of catastrophe, says Systems Administrator Phil Nail. The Romoland, Calif., data center also uses lighting tubes to bring as much sunlight as possible into the building. Coming next year: a "green roof," comprised of several inches of dirt and drought-resistant vegetation that will help keep temperatures stable inside.

AISO has thousands of Web-hosting clients, mostly small businesses but also a good-sized film-production company and a Florida cable-television operator. "People come to us because they are environmentally conscious, but they wouldn't stay if it didn't work for them," says Nail. He admits that his model might be too costly to replicate at a large scale, because of the amount of land and solar paneling required, but points out that every bit of incremental savings helps the environment. "There's more to doing the right thing than just saying, 'I'm going to be green.' But you have to start somewhere."