alternate energy sources

Between rising costs of energy consumption and federal regulations to rein in underperforming data centers, there’s been an increased appetite for alternative energy sources. Here, we examine wind, solar, geothermal and other non-traditional ways to power your data center.

Wind, Solar and Geothermal … Oh, My!

The world hungers for data continues at a staggering rate as well as from technologies including devices, applications, storage systems, transit systems and the Internet of Things (IoT). To keep pace with this appetite, data centers must be constructed using the latest building codes and materials, maximizing space, energy, lighting and operating environments.

By 2014, it was estimated that 70 billion kilo-Watt hours (kWh) or 1.8 percent of the total U.S. energy consumption went to supporting data centers – a linear rate until 2008 before leveling off due to the global economy tanking and reduction in investments. A 2016 United States Data Center Energy Usage Report had shown that the country’s datacenter energy consumption was maintained at 4 percent between 2010 and 2014 which counters previous estimates of a 24 percent rise between 2005 and 2010.

During the same year, The U.S. Government’s newest initiative, Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI), was announced to supersede the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) of 2010. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum M-16-19 applies to all government agencies with a focus on:

  • Energy metering
  • Power usage effectiveness (PUE)
  • Virtualization
  • Server utilization and automated monitoring
  • Facility utilization

By the end of fiscal year 2018, government data centers are required to meet PUE targets of 1.5 or below and to use data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software. If a facility fails to do so, it may be closed or consolidated. However, energy consumption can be further reduced by implementing alternative energy sources and technologies.

The top 5 alternative energy sources for data centers are listed along with the pros and cons:

Solar – This form of energy relies on the nuclear fusion power from the core of the Sun. This energy can be collected and converted in a few different ways. Although there are some inefficiencies, the overall photovoltaic (PV) costs have plummeted.

  • Pro:
    • Renewable
    • Environmentally friendly
    • Cost reduction
  • Con:
    • Requires expensive initial costs
    • Storage can be expensive
    • Requires real estate

Wind Power – Temperature differences at the Earth’s surface along with sunlight help to vary the speed and intensity of wind. Wind is a diffuse source that requires large numbers of wind generators to produce useful amounts of heat or electricity and many locations do not have enough wind energy.

  • Pro:
    • Renewable
    • Non-polluting
    • Low operating costs
  • Con:
    • Wind reliance
    • Noisy
    • Can threaten flying wildlife

Hydroelectric energy – This form uses the gravitational potential of elevated water that was lifted from the oceans by sunlight and is one of oldest forms of creating energy and not just relegated to building dams. Most of the available locations for hydroelectric dams are already used in the developed world.

  • Pro:
    • Renewable resource
    • Low failure rates
    • Water may be stored in reservoir for meeting higher energy demands
  • Con:
    • Expensive
    • Limited sources
    • Water quality can be affected

Biomass – Biomass simply refers to the use of organic materials and converting them into other forms of energy that can be used such as a fuel cell. Many types of biomass release large amounts of carbon dioxide gases into the atmosphere which affect our health.  A Rand study provides useful concerning introducing biomass into the U.S. energy markets.

  • Pro:
    • Renewable
    • Fossil fuel reduction
    • High availability
  • Con:
    • Expensive to harvest and store
    • Inefficient
    • Requires lots of operational space

Geothermal power – Energy left over from the original accretion of the planet and augmented by heat from radioactive decay seeps out slowly everywhere, everyday. The upper 10 feet of the Earth’s surface considered shallow ground maintains a nearly constant temperature between 50° and 60°F.

  • Pro:
    • Renewable – never runs out
    • Small real estate investment
    • Almost 100 percent emission free
  • Con:
    • Requires at least 350 degrees Fahrenheit to be efficient
    • Maintenance requires high costs and safety
    • Requires a bore field to tap into the earth

Whatever you ultimately choose for your alternative energy sources, the build-out specialists at Instor can help.