As many large technology and Internet companies have discovered, improving the energy efficiency of a data center is a much more straightforward proposition than sourcing the power to run them from clean sources.
As a consequence, some high-profile companies, such as Apple, eBay and Google, are investing in renewable energy technologies. But often these approaches -- ranging from solar arrays to fuel cell technologies -- only can cover a small percentage of the power needed to run the data center.
Apple's massive facility in Maiden, N.C., for example, draws about 60 percent of its power from a 25 megawatt (MW) solar array and 10 MW fuel cell system. Until it finishes another solar buildout, it is sourcing clean energy from nearby facilities to make up the balance.
A new partnership between Vieste Energy LLC and Environmental Systems Design Inc. (ESD) could shake up the status quo. Vieste aims to create a portfolio of U.S. data centers that run entirely on renewable energy; it hired ESD to design them. Not coincidentally, ESD's credentials include designing Allstate's LEED Gold data center, commissioned in 2009, as well as collaborating with Exelon on one of the biggest ice storage district cooling systems.
Each data center created by the two companies will be supported by 8 to 15 megawatts (MW) of power generated by a companion waste-to-energy facility. The electricity will be produced by a turbine generator that will feed both the technology infrastructure housed in the data centers and the chilled-water cooling systems.
A conceptual illustration of one facility appears below:
"This portfolio of renewable energy power generation facilities coupled with environmentally friendly solid waste management creates a very low PUE (power usage effectiveness) and a negative carbon footprint, one of the first undertakings of its kind in the United States," say the companies. "The first phase of this portfolio is funded and development is under way."
Vieste and ESD say the data centers will offer "extremely competitive utility rates and a host of other environmental and business benefits."
According to the Vieste master plan (PDF), the first data center is proposed for an 8.5-acre parcel of land in Glendale, Ariz. The company already has signed a 30-year waste supply agreement with the city that will provide it with about 180,000 tones per year of residential municipal waste, enough biogas feedstock to produce 14 MW of energy for the proposed data center.
Vieste is an investment company that specializes in managing capital projects using a public-private financing model.
Green data centers are definitely a growth industry. They currently consume about 2 percent of the world's electricity, and that consumption is growing at a rate of 12 percent annually.
This article originally appeared at Sustainable Business News.
Server towers image by wavebreakmedia via Shutterstock.