Not a big surprise to people who are in the utility and regulatory arenas related to energy efficiency - there will be an effort beginning this year to establish and enforce minimum energy efficiency standards for data centers in California.
Here's how the regulatory system works and how this effort will proceed:
The California Energy Commission establish two broad categories of mandatory energy efficiency standards. The first is Title 20, which sets minimum performance standards for appliances. The second is Title 24, which sets standards for building efficiency. The Title 24 standards apply to new construction as well as any significant remodeling or rehab of existing space.
Title 24 standards apply to the majority of building types - if you want to build a house, hotel, or office building, you have to prove to the local building authorities that your design meets the standards, so this is in essence a building code. Title 24 is generally updated every five years or so.
How do utilities fit in? Lacking any regulatory authority of their own, the energy efficiency arms of the investor-owned utilities in California use some of their rate payer energy efficiency funding to propose changes and additions to the codes, with the support of the California Public Utilities Commission, that oversees the utility programs.
There is a tautology here. Utilities run new construction incentive programs, paying developers to beat the Title 24 standards, and claiming the resultant energy savings. At the same time, the utilities can get some credit for the energy efficiency gained from raising the Title 20 and 24 standards, if they do the work to justify the changes.
Here's the upshot for data centers: As a so-called "process load", data centers are currently exempted as a building type from Title 24 standards, but an effort lead out of Southern California Edison will seek to extend Title 24 to this end-use.
PG&E established a set of energy efficiency "baselines" for data centers that established the floor for their new construction incentive programs, and you can expect these to form the starting point for discussion of new standards.
I would expect that new standards would require either air-side or water-side economizers, perhaps variable speed drives on other cooling equipment, and perhaps minimum efficiencies for some power delivery and conditioning equipment.
New standards will drive new data center development out of California, you say? Doubt it. Sixteen other states have shown a propensity for adopting CA standards as a matter of course, and besides, there are other more pressing reasons to stay (or leave) California.
Bonus news: I have been retained to do the outreach to the end-user, engineering, developer, and vendor communities such that proposed standards are well supported by vital interest groups. Drop me a line posthaste if you want to be in the mix.