Data centres consume huge amounts of power. So with the current energy crisis and the push towards more sustainable forms of energy supply to help combat climate change, what does the future look like for data centres when it comes to power?
A lot of data centre providers are now talking about renewable energy. You’ll see references on their websites such as - powered by renewable energy. But what does this actually mean? If you’re looking for a responsible data centre provider, you’ll need to delve into this a little deeper to be certain that this renewable energy claim is as green as it appears. If a provider is using renewable energy sources, but drawing a large amount of power, then other non-renewable energy sources will be required to meet demands. The renewable energy claim is a very easy statement to make, but buying renewable energy through your utility contract doesn’t always help bring more renewables onto the grid, or take fossil fuel generation off the grid.
Another option, which is being used quite widely in the USA, but less so over here is hydrogen fuel cells. A fuel cell is an electrochemical energy conversion device which works by converting fuel such as natural gas, biogas, and hydrogen, or a blend of fuels into electricity through an electrochemical process that requires no combustion - thus avoiding the emissions normally associated with burning this type of fuel. Like batteries, fuel cells convert potential chemical energy into electrical energy and generate heat as a by-product. This produces clean, affordable, highly reliable, always-on power. It is possible for data centres to run efficiently through this type of power technology going forward, so this could be one option.
Then there’s the consideration of nuclear power. There’s been much talk, and much controversy over nuclear power recently since the British government announced it will be building up to eight nuclear power stations across the UK. Nuclear energy is much cleaner than combustion based fuels. It’s a low-carbon fuel alternative, and despite the concern over safety risks, reports are finding that the industry has made vast improvements regarding health and safety over the past 60 years and the risk of accidents in nuclear power plants is low and declining.
So what about renewables? Wind, solar and hydro power? Well as great as these sound, sadly supply doesn’t meet demand. Solar power requires good weather or clear skies, hydro requires rains to fill dams and wind power needs the wind to be blowing at minimum speeds. The energy required to maintain these infrastructures can also be a problem as the facility costs are quite high, so even if they exist as a source, the infrastructure can be expensive and can actually require more net-power generation to run than these sources would create for quite some time. If these providers were to turn off their data centres, then there wouldn't be any more, or less, renewables coming onto the grid or being generated.
So perhaps data centres will have to look to a combination of cleaner fuel sources to power their facilities responsibly and sustainably. Fuel cells, backed up by renewables; nuclear power supported by a fuel cell - for example. One thing however, is certain. And that is that providers need to be acting now, and working to play their part towards making our industry cleaner and more responsible.
To find out what we’re doing at Teledata to make our data centres cleaner, take a look here.