Tech Firms Seek Energy Alternatives to Power Data Centers

Hotter temperatures are not only wreaking havoc on residential electric bills and power grids, but also on data centers, which are looking for reliable green backup power to prepare for “the new normal” and keep our planet’s collective knowledge accessible online through record heat. Cooling system failures resulting from the UK’s July heatwave resulted in Google Cloud’s London data centers going offline for a day, creating a ripple effect for customers as far off as the U.S. and in the Pacific region. Oracle’s London cloud-based data center was also impacted by what the company called “unseasonal temperatures.”

“The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says there’s a 93 percent chance that one year between now and 2026 will be the hottest on record. Nor will that be a one-off,” writes Wired, noting “that weather shift will have an impact on all human-made infrastructure — including the data centers.”

Among U.S. data centers, 45 percent “have experienced an extreme weather event that threatened their ability to operate,” Wired reports, citing a study by digital standards agency Uptime Institute. One result has been a rise in recent years of the cost of building data centers at a time when the sector is undergoing significant expansion.

Data centers are trying to cope but are hampered by using historical data that is largely obsolete due to unprecedented spurts of temperature increase. To keep its data centers running 24/7 through power outages, Microsoft has equipped each facility with batteries that kick in until the diesel-powered backup generators online, a common protocol among data facilities.

“As part of its plans to tackle climate change, Microsoft wants to completely quit using diesel as fuel for its backup power systems by 2030,” The Verge reports, examining the company’s hydrogen power breakthrough part of a test with Plug, a green power firm based in Latham, New York.

Microsoft and Plug just successfully tested a prototype hydrogen generator — “a three-megawatt hydrogen fuel cell system that can power around 10,000 computer servers at a data center (or 600 homes, for comparison),” per The Verge. “What we just witnessed was, for the data center industry, a moon landing moment,” Microsoft director of data center research Sean James said in a blog post last week.

“Microsoft operates more than 200 data centers worldwide, which serve as the hardware for its highly profitable Azure cloud services,” writes GeekWire.

“Getting off of diesel would have multiple benefits beyond the basic moral imperative,” according to Sebastian Moss of analytics firm DatacenterDynamics. “It is easier for data centers to get permits because they don’t have to worry about [pollution] particulates, and it means lower emissions for increasingly climate-conscious customers.”

Lessons Learned from Recent Major Outages, Network Computing, 8/1/22
Amazon Says Its Planet-Warming Carbon Emissions Grew 18% in 2021, Bloomberg, 8/1/22
Senators Introduce Bill to Ensure Resiliency of Federal Data Centers, FCW, 8/1/22
The Electricity Demands of Data Centers Are Making It Harder to Build New Homes in London, The Verge, 7/28/22
Hotter Than Dubai: U.S. Cities at Risk of Middle Eastern Temperatures by 2100, The Guardian, 8/1/22

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