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Advances in solar power making sustainable data centers more accessible

By Donna Donnawitz
October 14, 2014

Solar power has come a long way over the years. News from MIT reports that scientists are theorizing ways to install solar panels on Mars that might eventually provide electricity for space colonists. Unfortunately, these space-age aspirations are on hold until the technology gains ground on terra firma. The data center sector has been a key driver of energy innovation given that the industry has been repeatedly challenged to reduce its massive rate of energy consumption. Many facilities are turning to solar power to offset costs, and these works-in-progress summarize the state of solar power in the data center industry.

Steps in the green direction
Data Center Knowledge notes that a 50 acre, 57,000 panel solar array has recently been completed in the outskirts of New Jersey. The panels provide the adjacent QTS Princeton data center and its only occupant, publisher McGraw-Hill, with over 14 megawatts of power. Smaller data centers lack the resources to develop and outfit a multi-acre solar farm. Instead, these companies invest in power purchasing agreements help to subsidize new renewable technology while also alleviating each data facility's power costs. Use of solar energy by data centers has traditionally been limited to 200 kilowatt panel arrays. Companies like Emerson, Cisco and Facebook have already deployed multiple instances of this solar energy solution. However, the success of the solar-powered, full-service QTS Princeton center and use of fiber to Ethernet solutions to reduce electrical demand by will make it easier than ever for companies to design sustainable data centers.

Barriers for sustainability
Cost is just one of the many barriers that is slowing down the adoption rate of solar energy by data centers. Many data centers are prohibited from purchasing renewable power in states with regulated utilities, forcing these companies to instead deal in renewable energy credits, according to Green Tech Media. However, this process often incurs extra costs for businesses instead of reducing them. Google took a drastic approach to resolving this barrier by becoming a licensed wholesale energy seller. Few data facilities have the resources to follow Google's approach, but sustainability-minded moves of industry leaders shows that these barriers are on their way to being resolved.

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