With so much focus on environmental issues, data centers are increasingly coming under scrutiny for the amount of energy they consume. It’s not just a matter of being conscientious of the environment, many companies are concerned about the high costs of energy bills that could be unnecessary.
According to one estimate, U.S. data centers were consuming 91 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2013. That was about the same amount used by 34 large coal-fired power plants. That report by the National Resources Defense Counsel also projected that electricity consumption by data centers was projected to increase — up to 140 billion kilowatt hours annually by 2020. And that equals the same amount of electricity used by 50 power plants. At a cost of $13 billion each year.
It’s not just a matter of cost, of course. Environmentalists are concerned about the fact that those data centers will be emitting about 100 million metric tons of carbon pollution — every single year.
While it’s natural to point to large data centers as causing these issues, the truth is that most of data center energy is equally distributed among small, medium, and large corporate data centers. That’s why renewable energy must be a concern among all companies seeking solutions to reduce data center dependency on electricity. But it’s not necessarily a simple proposition since data centers must run 24/7.
There are some things to consider, as pointed out by several science teams that are studying ways to reduce data centers’ dependency on electricity. The project, which is a collaboration among the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center and Holyoke Gas and Electric, is funded by the National Science Foundation.
Among the possible initiatives outlined by the collaboration included using renewable generation and energy storage to supplement a data center’s power supply — not necessarily replace it. They also recommended relying on renewable energy generation for the data center’s current grid — a combination of nuclear, coal, and other traditional energy sources.
Yet, another possibility may be on the horizon, according to an article published in Data Center Knowledge. Massachusetts researchers are checking into the power solar energy for data center uses. The Mass Net Zero Data Center, or MassNZ, wants to determine if they can reduce data center energy consumption by using solar power.
MassNZ, which is a 200-square-foot small data center, is owered by solar panels and features renewable cooling systems and energy storage systems. Researchers will gather data in tests to determine the ability to develop sustainable data centers.