Gaining Value from Data Center Metering: USAA Real Estate Company, Vornado Realty Trust, and District of Columbia Government

Building in Southwest DC

USAA Real Estate Company, Vornado, and the DC Government worked together to illuminate Waterfront Station’s data center energy demand.

Landlord/Property Manager's Challenge:

USAA Real Estate Company and Vornado Realty Trust wanted to accurately benchmark the building’s energy use, but needed information from the tenant about the energy demand of its data center.

Tenant's Challenge:

The District of Columbia's Department of General Services sought to improve the ENERGY STAR score of its building and better understand the energy costs of running its data center.

Lease Structure:

Triple Net (Tenant pays energy bills directly to the utility)

When most people think of green buildings, they picture buildings that look a lot like 1100 and 1101 4th Street SW at Waterfront Station in Washington, DC: new LEED Gold office buildings adjacent to public transit. But the sustainability of these buildings extends beyond the construction phase because an innovative team is exploring the next frontier of green building with collaborative landlord and tenant energy management.

USAA Real Estate Company, a top real estate owner, capital provider to developers, and asset manager with a longstanding commitment to sustainability, owns Waterfront Station as part of its U.S. Government Building Fund. Vornado Realty Trust originally developed and now manages the property. The District of Columbia’s Department of General Services manages the building’s energy expenses and the District of Columbia Government (DC Government) is the sole office tenant.

In July 2013, after a 3-year grace period allowing the use of default values, EPA ENERGY STAR began requiring that buildings applying for ENERGY STAR certification use metered values for a key data center metric. To obtain the necessary metric, landlords need an energy reading at the output of the tenant’s uninterruptible power supply (UPS). The catch is that not all data centers have meters installed in this location. And when they do, the meter and associated energy data is owned by the tenant, which makes it difficult for the landlord to gather the necessary information.

Meeting the ENERGY STAR requirement called for a new kind of landlord-tenant collaboration. The building management team started by engaging with the tenant’s IT department and energy management staff. The tenant’s interest in sustainability and transparency was evident, as DC recently became the first jurisdiction in the country to publicly disclose the real-time energy use of its own buildings (via BuildSmartDC.com), and requires larger privately owned buildings to benchmark and disclose their annual energy use. “This was a great opportunity to learn something new and improve our energy transparency,” said Sam Brooks, Director of Energy and Sustainability at the DC Department of General Services. “By taking this next step, we knew we could more accurately calculate our building’s ENERGY STAR score and set an example for others in the District.”

Lessons Learned

  • Landlords/Property Managers: Before you reach out to your tenant, learn the ENERGY STAR rules for data center submetering and the IT nomenclature so that you can speak knowledgeably with your tenant’s IT managers.
  • Landlords/Property Managers: It’s important to communicate with the tenant’s IT department and non-IT, senior-level managers in the organizations. Each will have a different and valuable perspective.
  • Tenants: Be open to tracking your energy data, including that from the data center itself. This data will help you underwrite investments that improve the capability of your data center.

"We needed tenant buy-in to get the data. As a building owner, we put a lot of emphasis on tenant service and engagement and this was a great opportunity to work with the DC Government in a way that served all of our goals."

– Brenna Walraven, Managing Director, USAA Real Estate Company

Property manager Vornado was also well-positioned for this initiative. Its Tenant Service Center, one of the largest and most sophisticated remote monitoring and emergency response centers in the country, controls the operations of all of Vornado’s buildings in the Washington, DC region and monitors real-time energy use 24/7 across its portfolio. “The first step was to do a little research,” said Jonathan Gritz, Director of Sustainability for Vornado’s Washington Division. He set up a meeting with the DC Government’s IT department to learn about the UPS system at Waterfront Station. Vornado discovered that the UPS had integrated energy meters; the digital screen showed real-time energy demand in voltage, amperage and kilowatts. But it wasn’t clear whether the UPS had a communications card installed, something Gritz and his team would need in order to export the real-time energy readings and track them over time. They set up a second meeting in the data center and this time, with the tenant’s support, brought in the UPS maintenance contractor. He removed the UPS’s panels and found there was a communication card already installed, with an Ethernet cable plugged into it. After tracing the cable out of the data center, they found it rolled up and hanging from the wall in an electrical closet, not connected to anything.

The final step was to connect the Ethernet cable to the DC Government’s data center so continuous energy demand readings could be logged and monthly reports compiled to track energy consumption. Once the energy use of the data center is tracked for 12 consecutive months, a more accurate ENERGY STAR score can be generated, normalizing the building’s energy use for the data center energy demand.

In the process of this research, USAA Real Estate Company and Vornado discovered that the data center IT consumption, in combination with the associated air conditioning, were consuming about 15 percent of the building’s energy while accounting for only 1 percent of the building’s square footage. The data center cost about $100,000 per year in electricity and consumed more than 800,000 kWh. “The DC Government has already done a lot to reduce energy use in their data center,” said Sam Brooks, “and this is a helpful reference point to better understand and further reduce our energy use.”

USAA Real Estate Company, Vornado, and the DC Government are continuing to explore additional metering and real-time energy management strategies to reduce building energy use. “Landlord and tenant collaboration is the future of energy management,” said Brenna Walraven, “it’s a win-win-win for all of the parties involved.”