Emerson Network Power: Datacenters will increase use of renewables

October 15, 2014

Ian Bitterlin, the Chief Technology Officer at Emerson Network Power EMEA, has given some perspectives to TechRadar.Pro on a recent survey conducted by his company into future datacenter trends.

One of the predictions from the  Data Centre 2025: Exploring the Possibilities survey was that datacenters will use an increasing proportion of renewable energy by 2025. (It is important to point out this was a survey and not the view of Emerson itself.)

As Bitterlain points out, there needs to be some significant changes to the cost, and efficiency, of renewable production before there is more widespread adoption by datacenters.

“Our survey respondents predict that by 2025 data centres will move away from fossil fuels and adopt renewable energy solutions, particularly solar. In today’s market, solar power makes up 1% of the power generated in the US, but it is possible that, by 2025, this figure could rise to 20%. It was not clear why data centres should attract more of a share of renewable power than other users but the survey respondents predicted this would be true.

However, to cope with this explosive level of predicted growth, solar technology will need to make some considerable advancements in the next decade. As an example, currently, a square-metre solar panel can generate about 600 kWh per year in Western Europe.

This means that supporting power densities of a 6 kW/rack (an average rack power demand) would require ninety square metres of solar panel for each data centre rack without even factoring in cooling. Currently even with only 2% of power coming from solar, the size of the solar array would be almost double that of the data centre itself!

However, it is likely that other non-renewable sources will play a role. Research from Microsoft’s Global Foundation Services suggests that data centre engineers have also started exploring the possibility of powering a data centre entirely by fuel cells built into the server racks – resulting in the power plant being brought inside the data centre and minimising power distribution losses.”

The technology being developed within RenewIT will help to deal with some of these issues – including analysing the potential of using fuel cells (albeit using biogas rather than more carb0n-intensive natural gas).