California’s PG&E has become the first utility to join the Green Grid, a consortium of tech companies working to boost energy efficiency in data centers to cut costs and fight global warming. PG&E (PCG) signs on to the effort just days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report forecasting a dramatic rise in data center energy consumption over the next five years that would require the equivalent of 10 new power power plants to be built. However, if data center operators consolidate servers, buy energy-efficient equipment and tap alternative energy sources, they could cut annual electricity costs by $1.6 billion to $5.1 billion by 2011 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 47 million metric tons a year, according to EPA researchers. That’s the path being pursued by the Green Grid, which includes such Silicon Valley heavyweights as Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Intel (INTC) and Sun Microsystems (SUNW), as well as Dell (DELL), IBM (IBM) and Microsoft (MSFT). (Later today Green Grid members will unveil a "technical road map" to achieve its goals.) PG&E’s participation in the effort is significant because of the incentives the utility can provide to data centers to get green. For instance, PG&E offers discounts and rebates to companies that replace old computers with more energy-efficient ones and that use virtualization software to reduce the number of electricity-sucking servers. Data center operators that upgrade their cooling systems qualify for other incentives as do companies that deploy software to put computers in sleep mode when not in use. PG&E will use the energy efficiency standards being developed by the Green Grid group as the basis for future programs. Given the growing drain on the power grid from data centers, the utility in turn will reap the rewards of lower electricity demand on its network. "PG&E has been a leader in providing incentives for data center managers to put more energy efficienct equipment into the data center," said Jon Haas, Intel’s energy efficiency programs manager, during a conference call. "We want to bring that to other regional utilities going forward."