Renewable energy: solar power in the data centre
Tue 15 Feb 2022
Energy use in the data centre has been under scrutiny for some time now. These facilities are enormous consumers of power, with a recent study predicting that data centre energy usage will double between now and 2030, reaching 752 TWh, or 2.13% of total global energy consumption.
This energy usage is necessary to power the equipment itself, as well as related systems – like cooling – that keep everything operational. However, this consumption is putting pressure on local grids where data centres are being built, creating concerns that powering data centres puts residential power capacity at risk.
Power usage efficiency (PUE) is a measure of how well a data centre manages its consumption, providing a consistent and standardized method of comparing one facility to another. Efficiency is critical to ensure that data centres meet sustainability initiatives, as well as helping to keep costs low. Power costs account for 20-40% of total operational costs in the data centre – so any improvement in efficiency can directly and significantly impact the bottom line of the business.
For these reasons, data centres operators are improving their utilization of renewable energy, including solar power. For example, Orange Telecom has partnered with Engie to convert their primary African data centre to solar power.
Under the Energy as a Service (EaaS) agreement, Engie will install a solar plant on the rooftops of the Cote d’Ivoire facility and solar carports. This will provide direct energy for operations as well as help the company to avoid using fossil fuels in regular operations or in generators, reducing the environmental impact of the data centre. The project will have a total installed capacity of 355 kWp.
The Markley Group, a data centre provider in the U.S., recently signed a power purchase agreement (PPA) to get solar energy from community solar projects in Massachusetts, as part of the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program.
Jeffrey Flanagan, EVP of the Markley Group, noted that using renewable energy in the data centre helps enterprises evolve to meet new business and environmental needs. “At Markley, we are continuously evaluating how we can minimize our impact on the environment to better serve our customers. Partnering with Borrego allows us to offset our electricity use from 10 solar projects and further support the development of solar energy in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
Benefits of solar power in the data centre:
- Lessened impact on local power grid
- Post-installation operational cost is negligible
- Stable cost compared to volatile fossil fuel costs
- Demonstrated corporate social responsibility
- Drives sustainability and environmental goals
- Qualifies facility for ESG and sustainability-linked loans (SLLs)
And Google, the third-largest provider of global cloud infrastructure services, has been a leader in harnessing solar power to support operations at a variety of facilities, including data centres. In 2020, Google signed the largest battery-backed solar power deal to power a $600 million data centre in Henderson, Nevada, just south of Las Vegas.
Under the agreement, the company will combine energy from a 350 MW solar plant with 280 MW of battery storage to power the Henderson data centre. A spokesperson for Google said in the announcement, “Google – in collaboration with Nevada Power Company – has submitted teh necessary paperwork to secure approvals for our long-term energy supply agreement for electric service to Google’s facility in Henderson, Nevada.”
The company also recently installed what they call a ‘dragonscale’ roof, composed of overlapping solar tiles providing power to the company’s Bay View campus. The company estimates that the dragonscale tiles will generate nearly 7 MW of power – covering 40% of electricity demand at the facility. Should the tiles function as predicted, they could be deployed at Google facilities throughout the world, including data centres.