Making data centres more energy-efficient with solar power

As one of the top guzzlers of energy, data centres can harness solar as an opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce its environmental impact.

With rising concerns about climate change, countries around the globe are looking to alternative energy sources to sustain their future energy needs. In Southeast Asia alone, energy consumption is expected to grow by 80 per cent from 2014 to 2040, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

As concerns about energy and power supply continue to mount, businesses cannot ignore the importance of adopting clean energy initiatives and renewable energy solutions in order to ensure a sustainable source of energy supply in the long run.

Data centres are among the top of the list when it comes to industries with the world’s highest levels of energy consumption. To address energy concerns in data centres, solar energy is an emerging answer for a sustainable energy source as costs of solar technology continue to fall – the International Energy Agency predicts that solar could be one of the world’s main sources of energy by 2020.

While solar technology continually improves and the solar powered data centres become more popular, CIOs should start looking to solar as an opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce data centres’ impact on the environment.

The potential of solar energy in Asia

Views about the future of data centres among the industry in a Data Centre 2025 study were gathered. One interesting insight that was drawn from industry experts was their optimism about adopting renewable energy, in particular solar energy.

Even though adoption levels for solar energy in the United States were less than 1 per cent in 2012, experts are predicting that by 2025, solar power would account for 25 per cent of power generated in the Asia Pacific and Latin America, 18 per cent of power in Western Europe and 15 per cent of power in the United States.

Research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the United States supported the study with results showing that solar photovoltaics and concentrating solar power are some of the growing renewable electricity technologies displaying high uptake.

There is a large potential for solar energy, especially in Asia due to an abundance of sunshine and increasing governmental support through subsidies and green initiatives.

Government initiatives such as Singapore’s investment of S$2 billion into research and development for clean energy, buildings and water and income tax exemptions by the Thai Board of Investment to promote alternative energy technologies within the country are just some examples of how governmental support can open up new opportunities for businesses in their path to renewable energy. 

Countries facing challenges in energy supply could stand to benefit greatly from adopting solar energy. For countries such as India, where the energy grid may not be dependable, solar energy can support its existing energy supply to ensure a secure and reliable flow of power.

For instance, power losses resulting from power conversion processes can be eliminated through the use of solar energy, since those processes tend to generate heat and require equipment to cool down the data centre systems.

In the case of the Philippines, a country that has been battling with energy concerns due to growing demands and infrastructure challenges, there are opportunities for solar power to help bridge the gap and address energy issues. With the Philippine Solar Power Alliance (PSPA) urging the government to improve incentives for solar energy, businesses can start looking at developing solar projects to cope with the nation’s energy deficit.  

Collaboration is key to sustaining green initiatives

While government initiatives can ease the financial burden of enterprises that are keen on pushing the green agenda, ensuring the longevity of green initiatives requires a collaborative effort with the renewable energy industry.

Singapore, for instance, has instituted a Green Data Centre Technology Roadmap which aims to spur innovation through partnerships with the data centre industry.

With a data centre hub in Southeast Asia occupying over 60 per cent of the region’s data centre market share, as well as S$100 million of investment in projects driving energy-efficient buildings, technology and software, the government can incentivise data centres to reduce energy use and encourage the adoption of renewable energy sources like solar PV.

Companies need to start developing relations with communities, including energy associations and independent power producers

Companies need to start developing relations with communities, including energy associations and independent power producers.With ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) pledging to increase the share of renewable energy in the region’s energy mix, integration among countries and their individual energy targets are also essential to achieve their combined goal.

While Thailand is recognised as the leader of the clean energy push in ASEAN, the region still calls for international collaboration and agreements on practical approaches to the use of sustainable energy.

Address energy concerns by optimising critical infrastructure for solar energy deployment

Companies considering solar as an energy source will have to face the challenge of inconsistency. Hybrid energy systems can help to address this problem, enabling companies to deploy a variety of energy sources, including a combination of wind and solar technologies, batteries and fuel cells.

There is no cookie-cutter decision on which renewable energy sources to deploy at a site because varying site requirements, usage and even climate may pose unique challenges.

Through the use of infrastructure management solutions, data centre providers can gain a bespoke solution to help them achieve visibility on their energy usage. Gaining a full understanding of the power system design provides the insight on maximising existing resources and eliminating any energy wastage.

These solutions can help to create more reliable process operations and is a big step towards achieving financial and environmental benefits.

Given the potential of solar energy as an alternative energy source, CIOs should consider leveraging renewable energy costs in data centres through opportunities for cost efficiencies in energy efficiency improvements, as well as a reduction in the cost of cooling data centre equipment.

Switching to a cleaner energy source can also aid companies in significantly lowering their carbon footprint, and address concerns about electricity consumption. 

Cal Lahteenmaa is Emerson Network Power”s Technical Director of Telecoms in Asia.

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