Data Centers Looking to Integrate Renewable Energy Sources, but Should They Need To?

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Data centers are major power-hogs in industry, so when companies look at how to reduce their carbon footprint, they become targets of scrutiny.  The energy they use goes not only to powering the center, but also to cooling it.  In fact, $18.5 billion was spent on running the data centers of 2005, and that cost is increasing exponentially as technology continues to go digital.

Using renewable energies such as solar to power data centers cranks up a big bill for installation and takes up a lot of space.  Wind, geothermal cooling, and recycling wasted heat are options to consider.  Meanwhile, others are turning to efficiency optimizations to reduce the amount of energy they use to begin with.

Emerson Network Power has chosen to use solar panels to offset some of their power intake, but it takes seven acres of the photovoltaic cells to generate a single megawatt of power.  One of Emerson’s smaller sites now has 7,800 square feet of solar panels.   That’s 550 panels and now the largest array in all of Missouri.  Even so, at peak capacity, it only provides sixteen percent of the data center’s needs.

Some energy experts are saying that, rather than spending money on renewables to offset power needs, efficiency achieved through better design and operations practices is the way to go.  Gregg Dixon of EnerNOC says “the greenest kilowatt hour is the one that’s never used,” and although i/o Data Centers is investing in solar and a new thermal storage system, they admit that energy efficiency is a compelling short-term option.

Efficiency isn’t something easily visible to the public, so in order for it to be taken as a serious effort in environmentalism, its benefits need to be better publicized.  What most people don’t think about is that in digitizing a process, energy that was once used in many ways, all over the place, becomes centralized and minimized to just the data flowing through these centers.

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