The US DoE (Department of Energy) believes incentives, rather than regulations, are the key to improving the energy efficiency of data centres.

The DoE's Energy EERE (Efficiency and Renewable Energy) office gathered the top technology companies in Silicon Valley yesterday to promote collaboration on strategies to improve overall energy efficiency.

Datacentre energy issues are a growing concern for businesses and users as computers get more powerful, and the cost of running them and keeping them cool continues to increase.

Technology vendors represented at the forum, including rival chip makers AMD and Intel, along with server vendors such as IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems, have each been developing more energy-efficient products. But they and the DoE representatives acknowledged that datacentre energy usage needs to be addressed "holistically".

The DoE can be a resource to the industry, not a regulator requiring datacentres to meet energy efficiency goals, said Andy Karsner, head of the EERE programme.

"I'm not sure that right now there's a dramatic need for a regulatory move, particularly when you have the leaders of the industry coming here with a sense of purpose," said Karsner.

Industry representatives said they work independently on improving the energy efficiency of individual products but that the federal government could provide tax credits, other financial incentives or other resources to enhance overall energy efficiency.

"AMD and Intel keep doing their best to improve the performance of processors, but the CPU is only half the story," said Kris Singh, director of strategic platform technology programs at AMD, which hosted the day-long energy conference at its headquarters in California.

Because this was the first meeting of what the DoE called a "tech industry working group", no specific recommendations were made, and the schedule for future work remained open.

The DoE can fund research that individual product makers can't fund to look at how different components could work better together, said David Rodgers, acting deputy assistant secretary of EERE.

"A hardware company might improve the energy efficiency of a blade server and another company might improve the energy efficiency of a transformer to convert AC to DC. Right now, very few people are doing research on how to integrate those two together," said Rodgers.

The US Environmental Protection Agency sponsors the Energy Star programme, rating the energy efficiency of home appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners and some commercial equipment. But some participants in the working group are skeptical that a comparable programme could be applied to datacentres.

"I'm not sure about that," said Roger Schmidt, chief thermal architect at IBM. Because datacentres are much more complex with components from different manufacturers, it'd be hard to develop one Energy Star rating everyone would agree upon.

"What if the rating is bad – what do you do? Who are you going to point the finger at?" Schmidt asked.