EU Promotes Renewable Energy In Data Centres

Green keyboard energy © pryzmat Shutterstock

The RenewIT project aims to get data centres using solar and other renewable sources

Environmental groups have criticised data centres for using dirty energy – but the European Union has kicked off a three-year project to help them switch across to more renewable energy sources, especially on-site generation by sun, wind and biomass.

Apple is using solar power, and Britain’s Infinity has tried to market a biomass-powered data centre, but many data centre operators simply don’t examine the options. The RenewIT project, which is part-funded with €3.6m  (£3m) from the European Union, aims to help data centre owners build the business case for using on-site energy sources. It will also help build commercial models for renewable cooling including outside air cooling and sea water cooling.

wind power renewable energy turbine © Darren Cook ShutterstockMore than greenwash

“Currently, only a minority of European data centres derive energy from renewable sources. Of those that do, the motivation is usually to gain positive publicity or curry favour with regulators rather than for purely commercial reasons,” said Andrew Donoghue of 451 Research and project spokesperson.

RenewIT project co-ordinator Dr. Jaume Salom of IREC explained: “The main roadblocks to using renewable energy to power data centres are the perceived costs and the lack of tools to help operators make decisions about renewable energy. This project aims to overcome some of these obstacles by designing tools to evaluate the environmental performance and the share of renewable energy sources in the emerging concept of Net Zero Energy datacentres.”

Some big firms have suggested that data centres should be able to rely on their own energy and effectively go “off-grid”. As well as saving on energy costs and losses, this also can allow the data centre to operate without expensive back-up diesel generators on stand-by.

The drawback to renewable sources such as wind and solar is that they are not continuous, but data centres are normally geared to require a constant flow of energy. The RenewIT project plans to develop tools to help match theese intermittent sources with the applications and workloads being executed by the datacentre.

The project will develop a web-based planning tool, for data centre owners and operators, and an operational tool for workload scheduling. This tool will be produced by the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre and partners such as the Loccioni Group, and include algorithms to schedule workloads or move them between data centres to chase the availabilty of cheaper or greener power.

The project will also assess different renewable heat sources and energy sources, as well as different cooling techniques and energy storage – so that fluctuating energy sources can be matched to a steady load. It will also look at ways to re-use the waste heat from data centres for tasks like warming offices, and integrate the data centre with smart power grids emerging in cities. 

The output will be tested on eight real data centres across Europe, and the group hopes to provide new metrics and measurements for standards work – to extend work such as the Green Grid’s PUE measure of efficiency.

Are you a renewable energy boffin? Try our quiz!