FOCUS on POWER
Green challenges in the data center
Going green was never going to be as easy as adding yellow to blue. Dr Gareth Evans explores how renewable energy is posing its challenges to those wanting to power the data center
“A clean and secure supply of power is critical to today’s data centers and IT facilities” – and there’s certainly no arguing with the evident truth of that statement from Michael Adams, AEG Power Solutions’ global VP of data and IT. With Greenpeace estimating in its recent report, titled Cloud Computing and its Contribution to Climate Change, that by 2020 data center power consumption could approach 2m MW hours, the industry has little choice but to look beyond simple energy efficiencies to examine the kind of electricity it will be using in future.
Green energy consultant Cerys Watkins says there are two big problems for data center operators today in regards to renewable sources. “Renewable power sources tend to be either expensive or unreliable – and quite often both,” Watkins says. “Those that aren’t
are usually geographically limited. None of that is good news for the average operator.”
For technologies such as wind and solar photovoltaic (PV), generation can vary too much (just think of fluctuating wind speed or light levels), deeming it impossible to use for baseload demand. On the other hand, geothermal energy, which is theoretically ideal for this purpose, is restricted to particular areas of the world. While this has undoubtedly benefited Iceland’s emerging data center industry, and may eventually be replicated in parts of the US if Google- funded research into the potential for geothermal power does ultimately bear fruit, it is clearly not something open to everyone.
The same thing, Watkins points out, also holds largely true for the various guises of hydropower. While it may work for the likes of Microsoft’s data center in Quincy, Washington, US, which is said to be 100% water powered, and Yahoo’s facility in Buffalo, New York, it is always set to be a relatively localized phenomenon, not least because renewables are often best suited to an embedded power distribution model.
THE GREEN TARIFF It is a conundrum that has taxed minds across all industries and commercial sectors and the classic response has often been to adopt a green purchasing strategy, opting into one of the many sustainability schemes available from electricity suppliers and specialist companies offering sufficient renewably generated energy to offset the amount of electricity used. While this does not mean that a facility actually runs on renewable energy (at least not entirely), until capture and storage technologies improve it arguably represents the most cost effective means to begin to go greener.
That is the approach taken by Canvas Dreams – a web hosting and co-location service provider based in Portland, Oregon which participates in Portland General Electric’s ‘Clean Wind’ program, paying a premium of around one US cent per kWh for its power. It is also the way that Next Generation Data (NGD) selected power for its recently opened 750,000 sq ft state-of-the-art data center in Newport, Wales in the UK which is claimed to be the first in Europe to purchase 100% of its power requirement from renewable sources.
Spanish data center company D-Alix placed its data center on a renewable site
The new solar array at the Emerson facility. Image courtesy of Emerson
The Atlantis AK 1000 – the world’s largest tidal turbine with an18m rotor diameter, weight of 1,300 tonnes and a height of 22.5m. Up to 440 of these are planned for the bed of the Pentland Firth to power the ‘Project Blue’ data centre. Image courtesy of Atlantis Resources
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