UT Austin's Texas Advanced Computing Center will get a new 250-kilowatt solar energy array and energy-efficient power infrastructure as part of the $13-million demo project. Image: Walker Engineering Inc.

Japan Funds High Tech Upgrades for University of Texas Data Center


Japan has partnered with the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) to provide the college’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) with components for a 250-kilowatt solar energy farm and a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) power system for the research institute’s data center. The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), a public research and development agency, has committed $13 million toward construction, equipment, and staff for the project. At a signing ceremony at UT Austin’s campus on August 11, UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves and Senior Executive Vice President Atsushi Ichihoshi of NTT Facilities Inc., the contractor selected by NEDO for the project, signed an implementation agreement, while NEDO Executive Director Fumio Ueda and Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU) related to cooperation in promoting energy efficiency at data centers in other parts of Texas.

Operating around the clock, data centers require notoriously high amounts of energy, with US data centers having consumed an estimated 91 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2013. Although the project will not be able to produce enough power for the entire research institute, the new solar farm and HVDC system are expected to provide TACC with around $4 million worth of additional computing power and reduce energy costs by 15% compared to the conventional system currently powering the data center. Using direct current rather than alternating current, on which computers typically run, NEDO’s system will be able to cut costly AC-to-DC conversions as the solar panels help power the data center.

In return for providing funds for the project, NEDO will be able to study and assess the efficiency of the technology used in the demo, which is expected to run until August 2017 and may serve as a flagship project for the organization’s future endeavors in Texas.

NEDO has conducted similar demo projects in three other states in past years, launching smart grid technology projects in Los Alamos, New Mexico and the Hawai‘ian island of Maui in 2012 and 2013, respectively, as well as a zero net energy project at the State University of New York in 2014. This project also adds to a growing list of Japanese investments in Texas that are focused on energy efficient technologies.

NTT Facilities intends to begin construction on the Texas demo project this fall.

Patrick Madaj is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an undergraduate student at the University of Oklahoma.