In an effort to expand its modeling and simulation capabilities for advanced energy systems research, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has announced plans to partner with HP and Intel to build a high-efficiency, high performance computer (HPC) system for NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility under construction in Golden, Colo.

The $10 million HPC will advance the lab’s work in materials research and serve to develop a better understanding of biological and chemical processes. The ability to use high performance computing for modeling and simulation will allow research into fully integrated energy systems that otherwise would be too costly, if not impossible, to study directly. The petascale capability of the HPC means the system can perform 1 million billion calculation every second, making it the world’s largest computing capacity dedicated solely to renewable energy and efficiency research.

NREL’s new HPC will not only be the world’s biggest, baddest HPC data center for energy research, it will be the most energy-efficient one as well. Data centers typically consume vast amounts of energy, producing waste heat in the process. According to 2009 data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, the average data center runs at a power usage effectiveness (PUE) of 1.91. The NREL HPC is designed for an annualized PUE of 1.06 or better. Efficiency is further enhanced by the facility’s compact design, which results in shorter electrical cable and plumbing lines, as well as a new technology that uses warm water to cool the servers.

“This unique capability sets NREL apart in our ability to continue groundbreaking research and analysis,” said NREL Director Dan Arvizu. “In partnership with HP and Intel, NREL is acquiring one of the most energy efficient, high performance computer systems in the world for our research.”

Much of the waste heat that is produced will be used to heat the offices of the Energy Systems Integration Facility and other buildings on the NREL campus. Overall, the HPC data center is expected to provide a significant reduction in both energy consumption and operating cost.

“The industry is more and more cognizant of the amount of energy being used in our nation’s data centers,” said NREL Computational Science Center Director Steve Hammond. “NREL’s new HPC data center in the ESIF will set the standard for sustainable and energy efficient computing. The data center will have a world-leading PUE and reuse nearly all waste heat generated. Most data centers do only one or the other, not both.”

The new HPC system will be deployed in two phases based on HP ProLiant SL230s and SL250s Gen8 servers with Intel eight-ccore Xeon E5-2670 processors. The first phase will begin in November 2012 and reach full petascale capacity by summer 2013.

 Main image credit: SmithGroup JJR/National Renewable Energy Laboratory