eBay Goes Green With Solar Panels For Utah Data Centre

Despite concerns about the suitability of solar panels for data centres, eBay is to harness the power of the sun for its Utah facility

Online auction giant eBay continues to seek ways to develop sustainable and efficient ways to power its data centres, with the news it has added a solar installation to a data centre in Utah.

The announcement was made in a blog posting, which boasted that the solar panel deployment is eBay’s largest solar installation to date.

Rooftop installation

The installation has taken place on the roof of eBay’s energy efficient Topaz data centre in Utah, which it developed back in 2010.

“The installation includes a 665 kilowatt (kW) solar power system, designed and installed by SPG Solar, featuring 72,000 square feet of solar panels, covering virtually every inch of roof space on the data centre,” wrote eBay’s Richard Brewer-Hay.

“The installation will produce 924,013 kilowatt hours (kWh) of clean electricity annually, which is equivalent to offsetting 702 tons of greenhouse gas emissions or planting 136 acres of pine forests,” he wrote.

And it seems that eBay believes in addition to the environmental benefits of the solar panel installation, the cost of the project will pay for itself in just four years.

eBay said the Topaz solar panel installation, coupled with its 650 kW array and 500 kW Bloom Fuel cell installation at its San Jose headquarters, as well as its 100 kW solar array in Denver, brings eBay’s total renewable energy capacity to almost 2 Megawatts.

“To put that in perspective, that’s equivalent to about 11 percent of our total US data centre electricity demand,” said eBay.

Solar reservations

This last point is interesting as some experts have developed serious reservations about the ability of solar panels to help reduce the environmental impact of data centres. This is because of the  proportion of the electricity or power that the solar panels can realistically provide data centres in their day to day operations.

This point was recently articulated by Amazon’s vice president and data centre guru James Hamilton in a blog posting.

Hamilton’s blog highlighted two big solar developments of late, namely Facebook using solar panels at its Oregon site, and Apple’s large solar farm at its iDataCenter in North Carolina.

Hamilton pointed out that Facebook’s 25 megawatt data centre at Prineville Oregon has a 100kW solar array. He admitted that this was a fairly large solar array, but in reality it only provides 0.4 percent of the overall facility power used at this data centre, i.e. just enough power to run the lighting.

Matters are not helped by the fact that the sun in Oregon spends the bulk of the time poorly positioned for power generation.

Hot climate = more cooling

And likewise Apple’s iDataCenter in Maiden, North Carolina, has also been taken to task over its massive solar array.

Apple’s solar installation takes up 171 acres and is rated at a peak output of 20MW. But Hamilton said the actual power from that will be about 3.2MW, and he estimates that the total needs of the data centre is 78MW, another significant shortfall. In other words, America’s biggest commercial solar deployment is still only big enough to provide about four percent of a data centre’s power.

Hamilton’s blog posting also raised two other interesting points. Apple’s huge solar panel installation has required the controversial burning of 171 acres of forest.

His second point is somewhat ironic, in that solar installations typically require hot and sunny locations, but this sunny climate conversely is bad news for the cooling of the servers and kit inside the data centre.

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