Solar Energy for Green IT Data Centers

by Andy Goldman on January 1, 2012

The use of Renewable Green Energy, RGE, increases in our life, this is a fact everybody admits. Solar energy is one form of renewable green energy and it is the preferred source of renewable energy for Green IT data centers. Photovoltaic, PV, technology is the preferred technology to enable the production of the needed electricity from the sun so as to run the data center.

Data Centers are increasing in size for two main reasons. The first reason being that the large multinational corporations are consolidating their distributed data centers into 1 to 3 large data centers around the world, usually 3, so that they would take advantage of the economies of scales and enable their uninterrupted 7×24 data center operation. The second reason data centers are expanding is due to the increasing popularity of cloud computing and the services offered by telecom and large IT providers. Building new and large IT data centers during these times, that there is pressure from many about Green Renewable energy, puts an ever increasing pressure on IT data center managers to select renewable green energies to run their data center.

Solar Energy has been able to produce electricity for the operation of small to medium data centers and it is now being scaled up to be able to support large data centers. Solar energy is certainly both a short term and a long term source with a long of potential with a few hurdles along the way. Solar panels, for the collection of sun, have taken a long time to mature and become efficient and marketable. However solar panels are only half of the equation. Sun is only out half of the day while energy is needed 7×24. Therefore energy has to be stored in batteries and retrieved when sun is not out. Battery technology, which by the way is a DC provider, needs improvement in order to be efficient enough so as to be able to support large data centers.

So what are large multinationals doing in this area and how are they handling solar energy to power up their data centers?

Google believes strongly in solar and they believe that it has a way to go so that it becomes more efficient and effective. They fund research in solar energy and they want to make solar energy cheaper than coal. They support programs for solar power in homes, recently spend another 50million USD for 3000 new homes. They also have programs that promote the use of solar in data centers.

IBM is also using solar energy to power data centers. IBM is giving priority on investment to power up data centers with solar power where the traditional grid power cannot reach those data centers or the normal electricity supply is not that reliable. They, IBM, are working on in two directions. One direction is to use solar power to supplement the normal electricity supply and the other direction is the energy-efficient computing where they design servers to run on high voltage DC supply. The design dictates for a solution where solar panels are connected in a row to produce high voltage DC supply and servers are designed to operate on these specifications.

Apple was the one of the big IT giants that has not invested heavily in green IT. As a matter of fact they ranked last in a recent survey about Green investments.  Solar power was and still is their first choice. Now Apple is building a large solar farm near their large data center in Maiden, North Carolina. Apple is investing a lot on cloud computing and thus they build large data centers with need of MWs of electricity. Solar power will definitely be one source of power to be used to cover at least a percentage of the needs.

In conclusion we must state that to this moment there isn’t a 100% solar powered data center.  You need a connection to the grid so as to power your data center for periods of solar insolation, which can be the long nights or the periods of excessive demand that the solar power supply cannot meet the demand. However Solar Power is definitely expanding in use by large IT data center operators and other Renewable Green Energy sources are being considered where the conditions permit.

About the Author

Andy Goldman

Andy Goldman is a 27-year veteran in the service industry with managerial, strategic, operational and consulting experience. Has managed teams of 5-45 people and has also managed several multidiscipline projects. He has worked in Europe and the USA and holds a BSc and MSc in Electrical Engineering and an MBA with a minor in Finance. For the past 5 years he has been an enthusiast of renewable technologies. Article by Andy Goldman You can connect with Andy Goldman at Google+

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