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Monday, April 13, 2009

Is a Green Data Center even possible?

This was the question running through my mind this weekend, and assuming it was, who would build it, what makes it green, and is it a standard? Yes, my mind was quite active this weekend…

The question came up after a chat I had with Austin Energy and the State of Michigan last week about wind power projects – both current and future. Why wind you might ask? Because right now it is fashionable, generates more electricity than solar on the same footprint, and it works. In the data center world however, you plan for the crazy what if’s, in this case no wind for a month, so you do need to have back up at the ready, preferably Natural Gas. T. Boone Pickens has studied this extensively.

So let’s consider that we have access to wind generation, the issue that I have seen is that the grid, at least the ERCOT one, is not designed to have more generation that it has today. So you can generate thousands of megawatts from May-October during the windy ‘tornado’ season but because the transmission grid can’t do anything with the capacity being generated you turn off the generation capability so you don’t bring down the entire US power grid. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Given how much electricity data centers consume and need to sustain growth, it seems there should be a louder voice out there telling utilities to upgrade their power systems. There isn’t though. Why? Money. If I own a utility that gets a lot of electricity generated by wind (inexpensive), then any upgrades I make to my power system are going to help my competition more than me (potentially). So they don’t get done.

So while there is all this effort out there being spent on building generation, until we give the Grid an upgrade it will be the equivalent of watching high definition TV over dial up. There will be a lot more content (electricity) than availability to deliver (bandwidth).

I believe this is what ultimately will hold back expansion the most, of both data centers AND the proliferation of getting green energy to some of the largest consumers of power out there. Your friendly, stark, neighborhood data center.

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