Green Data Centers

a guest post by Ken Whiteside, Director of Business Development at ONTILITY, LLC.

Green Data Centers

The mechanics of data – from entering a search term on a smart phone to cloud computing for large-scale business operations – seem intangible. Data is available 24/7/365 – our digital assistants don’t sleep or take vacations. The physical infrastructure, and the resources to power it, on the other hand, are quite tangible indeed. Data centers, server farms, call them what you will, are major power consumers and a growing source of environmental impact. So it’s no surprise that sustainability, energy efficiency and renewable energy efforts are being aimed at these quiet giants.

Effectively storing and communicating data demands large amounts of energy. In addition to the power required to run the devices themselves, servers produce heat, and dealing with those heat loads is a major source of electricity demand. Cooling and humidity control are crucial in the prevention of potentially catastrophic equipment failure. Some energy industry experts report that the 13,000 data centers currently operating worldwide consume 1.2% of global electric power and a full 2% in the Unites States. If classed as a separate industry, data center operations would be the sixth largest user of electricity worldwide. The number of data centers is expected to double by 2016 and in spite of this steep projected growth, the number of data centers worldwide is not expected to meet demand.

Clearly, energy demands must be addressed. A business-as-usual approach is not sustainable in the face of the rising cost of energy from traditional sources and an increased emphasis on environmental responsibility among high tech corporations. A number of large data center owner/operators are taking innovative steps:

IBM India Software Lab: Bangalore, India. The building is equipped with a PV system that IBM claims can run 50 kilowatts of computer equipment five hours a day for up to 330 days per year. IBM is also replacing traditional, AC-powered servers and air-conditioning units with high-voltage, DC servers that are water-cooled.

Hewlett-Packard: Wynyard Data Center, UK. Built in 2010 as HP’s first wind-cooled green data center, the building is cooled solely by cold air flowing from the North Sea and is 40 percent more energy-efficient than conventional data centers. It also makes use of other innovations like harvesting rainwater to maintain proper humidity levels and using light-colored server racks, allowing for 40 percent less lighting to be installed compared to using black cabinets.

Not suprisingly, Apple is also taking big steps to increase its data centers’ sustainability in keeping with the overall goal to power all Apple facilities entirely with renewable energy. By using onsite energy production, buying grid power from green suppliers and cutting on energy loads, Apple is a good example of the modern green company, and has already achieved 100 percent renewable energy at all its data centers.

Apple: Maiden, North Carolina. Built in 2012, this facility earned LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and is surrounded by the nation’s largest end-user-owned, onsite solar photovoltaic array. The 100-acre, 20-megawatt PV system has an annual production capacity of 42 MWh. Additional energy is derived from local bio-gas stored in fuel cells, chilled water storage for cooling, environmental wind cooling and a white cool-roof.

In addition, Apple runs data centers in Prineville, NC on locally-sourced renewable resources including wind, hydroelectric, and solar; Newark, NJ on 100% renewable energy sourced primarily from wind; and Reno runs entirely on clean energy generated by an onsite solar and geothermal systems.

The global demand for data is relentless and the infrastructure to support our appetite for information will continue to grow at an astronomical rate. Fortunately, new technologies and changing business strategies are catching on, providing sensible approaches to energy use in a high-growth industry.

Ken Whiteside photo Ken Whiteside has been a fan of solar energy for decades. His first hands-on experience was installing solar on off-grid houses around Telluride, Colorado in the 1990’s (summer in the San Juan Mtns. - somebody had to do it). From his home in Austin, Ken writes and works for widespread adoption of solar electricity, smart energy production and use, and sustainability.

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