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CenturyLink puts natural gas-powered data centre online

Tue 14 Apr 2015

CenturyLink will launch an expansion of its Irvine data centre in Southern California this month, powered by natural gas. The energy fuel cells have been supplied by Bloom Energy, and will supply 500kW of on-site power.

The Irvine extension brings an extra 2MW load to the plant’s 12MW running requirements, and makes the location the first gas-fuelled multi-tenant DC in Southern California.

Bloom Energy is reported to have approximately 10 NG-fuelled data centres in the United States. A typical natural gas energy fuel cell weighs 19 tons, outputs 210kW on a 480 V 3-phase 60Hz electrical connection, and has a CO2 efficiency of 735-849 lbs/MWh when powered by natural gas, or a carbon-neutral score when powered by directed biogas.

Vice president of mission critical systems at Bloom Peter Gross said “This is what you call a mission-critical solution, where this replaces the UPS, and this replaces the generator,”

CenturyLink vice president of global colocation commented that demand for natural gas power generation in data centre operations is likely to increase: “It’s going to make or break a lot of companies’ decisions about where they’re going to […] colocate equipment,”

The lower cost of gas vs. electricity in California means that an NG-fuelled solution makes economic as well as ecological sense, and depending on the performance of the new expansion and the comparative gas vs. electricity prices in the locales of CenturyLink’s 50+ colocation centres worldwide, the scheme may be considered beyond Irvine.

Additionally California has a chequered history regarding reliability of electricity supply, with the California energy crisis [PDF] of the early 2000s having cost $40-45bn and exposed thousands of businesses to downtime.

California is becoming increasingly interested, legislatively, in providing incentives for gas-based power solutions, though most efforts has so far have concentrated on the vehicle and transport infrastructure sectors.

In 2013 eBay added ecological value to its own Utah NG-powered data centre by reclaiming and exploiting waste heat generated by the plant.

Last year, however, The University of Delaware scuppered its own plans to develop a 279mw data centre co-powered by natural, which would otherwise have been twice as large as any similar facility in the United States, due to ‘lack of rigor’ in pre-planning and poor return on emissions.


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