Google, Apple and Microsoft see the potential in powering their data centres with renewable energy. Will European data centre operators follow suit?
Google will be buying more wind power from a new wind farm in Southern Sweden to fuel its data center in Hamina, Finland. Plans to build the farm will commence within one year. The new wind capacity adds another 59MW and will be using 29 wind turbines.
This is not Google’s first wind power purchase in the area. Last year, the firm announced that it has plans to buy wind power from a 72km wind farm in Sweden-developers will begin to build this farm in 2015.
While the move towards renewable energy helps the environment, it is also protecting Google from increasing prices through long term purchasing. The company is investing in new renewable energy projects that will deliver a return for its money. Already, over US$1 billion has been committed projects like these in the US, Germany and South Africa.
Says Google corporate finance head Kojo Ako-Asare, “We invest in these projects because they make business sense, because they help put more renewable energy on the grid and because they have a positive impact on the local economies where they operate.”
Microsoft and Apple are also turning towards renewable energy to power their data centres. Apple says it will be powering its iCloud data centres with renewable energy and Microsoft plans to buy 110MW of wind power to power its San Antonio data centre. This 20-year agreement marks the first time the company will power a data center with clean energy.
This could be the start of a mind-set change in Europe as “only a minority” of European data centres are powered by renewable energy. This is according to Andrew Donoghue of 451 Research. He says that their main motivation is usually to gain positive publicity or support from regulators.
The real benefits are not being realised due to various obstacles which include the perceived high costs of renewable energy, its intermittent nature, and a lack of tools to assist operators when making decisions about the use of renewable resources in data centres.
However, the newly launched RenewIT maybe the first stepping stone towards change. The project aims to overcome these challenges by designing tools to evaluate the environmental performance and the share of renewable energy sources in the emerging concept of Net Zero Energy data centres.
Data centres are built to receive an uninterrupted power flow. The intermittent nature of renewable energy is therefore a very real challenge for data centre operators. The project will help match the intermittent flow of renewable power with the applications and workloads being executed by the data centre.
In addition, RenewIT will also look at ways to better integrate data centres with smart cities infrastructure by plugging into smart grid and micro grids. The project will use its links with eight data centres across Europe to test the robustness and end-user applicability of the project's technical energy concepts and simulation software tools in a live environment.
Data centers worldwide use about 30GW of electricity. This figure is bound to escalate as data levels increase. This is thanks to new technologies and the increase in technology users. Data centres will need to support this growth.
Powering data centers with renewable energy sources is an obvious solution to global energy problems and it is clearly making financial sense as big corporations are plunging in to this market.