It looks like data centers might be another beneficiary of the stimulus package.

Tucked in among the $787 billion stimulus package signed into law by President Barack Obama on Tuesday is $50 million for efforts to increase the energy efficiency of information and communications technologies.

It's a small piece of $16.8 billion going to the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – most of that money is aimed at renewable energy and building energy efficiency grants and research.

But that $50 million could be directed to find new ways to improve the power efficiency of data centers, said William Tschudi, project manager in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's environment energy technologies division.

If EERE does that, "There's a lot of stuff they've wanted to do over the years –demonstration projects, putting out best practices manuals, that kind of stuff," Tschudi said Thursday at the Teledata Technology Convergence Conference in Santa Clara.

The conference, now underway, features IT heavyweights like Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, IBM, Sybase and others discussing the latest and greatest in data center efficiency.

It's a big to pic, since data centers, which now consume about 1.5 percent of the nation's electricity, could see their power demands grow out of hand if they can't become more efficient.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates data centers and servers will double their energy consumption to 100 billion kilowatt-hours by 2012. That could cost data-center owners $7.4 billion a year and require the equivalent of 10 new power plants to support them (see Data Centers Could Hit 'Resource Crisis').

As one of the authors involved in that 2007 EPA report, Tschudi knows well the challenges involved in improving data center efficiency – and he hopes the $50 million going to EERE will help find solutions.

Tschudi suspects EERE will look to institutions like universities and, yes, national labs to partner up on research projects. Data center industry groups like The Green Grid and the Uptime Institute could also get involved, he said.

But there also might be opportunities for companies like General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Schneider Electric's American Power Conversion and others that have been getting into the data center efficiency business (see GE Looks to Data Center Efficiency and Sun: Data Center Efficiency for Everyone). 

Tschudi held a November workshop with data center industry leaders to develop a list of research topics. The topics included "everything from chip-level cooling solutions to use of DC power to use of free cooling techniques – basically opening the windows," he said Thursday.

That's a sampling of the techniques now being applied to data center efficiency projects. It remains to be seen if federal stimulus money will give them the boost they need.