New push of renewable energy in data centres

Article Type: News          Published: 12-2013         Views: 1868   



A three-year EU project - called 'RenewIT' - is now underway to investigate how data centres can be designed and operated to make more efficient use of renewable energy. .

"Currently, only a minority of European data centres derive energy from renewable sources. Of those that do, the motivation is usually to gain positive publicity or curry favour with regulators, rather than for purely commercial reasons."

That is the contention of Andrew Donoghue of 451 Research and project spokesperson for the RenewIT project. Co-funded by the EU with a budget of 3.6m Euros ($4.8m), RenewIT will develop tools and research to help data centre operators develop a more compelling business case for using on-site sources of renewable energy - such as solar, wind and biomass - and renewable cooling, including outside air cooling and sea water cooling.

"The main roadblocks to using renewable energy to power data centres are the perceived costs and the lack of tools to help operators make decisions about renewable energy, " added Dr Jaume Salom of IREC (a nationally recognised thought leader, stakeholder coordinator, expert resource and facilitator of regulatory reform) and RenewIT project co-ordinator. "This project aims to overcome some of these obstacles 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. "

The main challenges in using renewable energy for data centre power are cost, capacity, lack of integration and the unreliability of its implementation. For example, existing data centre infrastructure is geared to a continuous power flow, but renewable sources, such as solar and wind, fluctuate, depending on the day, time and the season. The RenewIT project plans to develop tools to help match the intermittent flow of energy from onsite renewable, with the applications and workloads being executed by the data centre.

The RenewIT project will focus on five main outcomes:

The RenewIT Tool: This will be a web-based planning tool to help data centre owners, operators and design organisations understand the economic, energy and sustainability related costs of building a facility that uses a high-proportion of on-site or grid renewable energy.

Workload management and scheduling: RenewIT consortium partner, Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, will lead efforts in this area, developing algorithms for scheduling workloads within a facility, or between facilities using a monitoring and control platform engineered by Loccioni Group. It will build on existing research about the best relationships between performance and energy consumption and moving workloads across time zones to chase cheaper or greener power.

Develop concepts for integration in data centres: The team will quantify the benefits of various energy concepts. These concepts will use a holistic approach that integrates various solutions:

• Renewable heat sources (biomass, solar thermal, geothermal)
• Renewable power generation (wind, solar, photovoltaic)
• Renewable cooling (fresh/free air cooling, water, snow, sky radiation)
• Energy storage (daily or seasonal)
• Heat-pumps to increase the temperature of waste heat from data centres
• Heat re-use and interaction with district heating and cooling systems
• Solar cooling.

Validation of tools with real data centres: The project will establish a validation process in close collaboration with eight data centres across Europe to exchange continuous feedback with the technical developers. Based on existing case studies, the validation process will use live data centres to test the robustness and the end-user applicability of the project's technical energy concepts and the simulation software tools.

Propose new metrics and contribute to standardisation efforts: RenewIT will contribute to the establishment of a standard approach to data centre energy evaluation, incorporating infrastructure, equipment and IT workload management and renewables. New ways of evaluating load matching - the relationship between loads, the generation of renewable energy and the grid interaction flexibility - will help operators understand how a particular technical solution can meet the needs of the data centre and the grid.

The project will also tackle the issue of how to better integrate data centres with smart cities infrastructure by plugging into smart grid and micro grids, as well as strategies such as redirecting waste heat from data centres to other businesses and residential accommodation.

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