2017 Could Be the Year to Explore a Green Data Center
At the end of 2015, data center collocation provider Switch committed to running all its data centers on solar power. The company built two solar farms in Nevada — Switch Station 1 and Switch Station 2 — to generate 100 and 80 megawatts, respectively.
Datacenter Dynamics reports that while Switch completes construction on the new solar farms, the firm is contracting with NV Energy to purchase green data center energy sources. Switch also joined other organizations, including the City of Las Vegas, to request a larger place for green power in NV Energy’s overall power generation. For a half cent per kilowatt hour, larger organizations like Switch can receive renewable energy from new NV Energy projects, which currently rely on solar. NV Energy plans to meet growing demand by investing in photovoltaic projects throughout southern Nevada.
In some cases, governments incentivize businesses to invest in green data center power sources. For example, in late 2015 the Obama administration announced that 154 U.S. businesses had joined the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge as an extension of America’s participation in the Paris climate accords.
In other cases, companies realize going green just makes good business sense. “What we have consistently found is that [by] paying attention to environmental issues — specifically, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions — we make our operations more efficient,” says Jay Dietrich, a Distinguished Engineer for energy and climate stewardship for IBM.
Purchasing Renewable Energy
Green power sources for data centers aren’t necessarily easy to come by, however. Dietrich admits half of IBM’s data center properties are located in markets where it’s challenging to buy renewable energy.
Many areas are resource-poor. In Norway, IBM can achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage, but in Singapore, it’s virtually zero, according to Dietrich. Also, the market doesn’t always make purchasing renewable energy a cost-competitive option.
In some markets, such as Chile, investing in a renewable power source can actually prove cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels. Google’s Vice President of Technical Infrastructure Joe Kava told The New York Times that while the cost of wind power stays stable, prices of carbon-based power tend to fluctuate. This stability makes it easier to budget for wind-power purchases, while also enabling businesses like Google to enter long-term contracts with renewable-energy providers.
One advantage of having Google or IBM’s purchasing power is that big increases in demand can simultaneously slash prices. Jonathan Koomey, a lecturer at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, told the Times that whenever a company doubles its solar production, it also cuts solar energy costs by 20 percent. In the same vein, doubling wind-power production cuts the cost of wind power by 10 to 12 percent.
An Increase in Green Data Center Investment
IBM and Google aren’t the only businesses investing heavily in renewable energy for their data centers. Microsoft announced in November 2015 that it had purchased a 175-MW wind facility outside of Chicago to power its Windy City data center. The company also inked a 20-year deal in Texas to purchase wind energy in pursuit of its goal to become increasingly carbon-neutral.
In Oklahoma, Google plans to purchase 572 MW of wind power, which amounts to 10 percent of the state’s total wind-power output. The Oklahoman reports Google’s wind-powered data center in Pryor, Oklahoma, was also the first of Google’s data centers to achieve the goal of accumulating no landfill waste.
IBM continually works with utility providers to find renewable energy sources. In 2015, 16.2 percent of IBM’s data center power came from renewable sources. Dietrich and his team earned the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Leadership Award for goal setting in 2016. By 2020, his team hopes green data center power usage will help cut the company’s carbon dioxide emissions by 35 percent.
A Sustainable Future for Business
Between purchasing green power, searching for innovative cooling techniques, consolidating resources and using automation, businesses find benefits far beyond environmental friendless when the need for energy efficiency forces them to streamline their operations.
Dietrich reports that making data centers green helps his company cut costs by becoming operationally efficient. “We use our materials and the energy we purchase in a more efficient manner, so we get more work out of them. And it reduces our costs and makes us more competitive while reducing our operational carbon emissions.”