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Renewable energy may not be completely viable in the data center

By Donna Donnawitz
May 22, 2012
Efforts to implement renewable energy resources have been met with mixed results in the data center. The core problem is that solar and wind energy, the most viable sources of alternative power, are incredibly variable in nature, making them a poor fit for the data center. At the same time, hydroelectric and thermal energy would work well for data center operators, but can only be used in areas with the right geographic features. There is still potential for renewable energy, but the long-term impact of green energy sources in the data center industry is unclear, ZDNet reported.

To illustrate the challenges facing the data center industry when it comes to renewable power, the news source pointed to Apple. In its new data center in North Carolina, the company is working to implement as much renewable energy as possible. The goal is to eliminate any dependence on third-party power generation sources, eliminating the operational costs of having to pay a power bill.

In an effort to accomplish this goal, Apple has set aside 250 acres to be filled with solar panels. It will also use biofuel, the report said. Combined, these two renewable sources will create just 60 percent of the power needed by the data center. Apple hopes to find a renewable resource from a third-party source to make up the last 40 percent.

While Apple may show the world that renewable energy can work in the data center, it does so while spending significant amounts of capital on a solar farm. ZDNet explained that few companies could afford such measures, and Apple's ability to throw so much money at the renewable resource problem and not solve it completely is further evidence that the whole issue of green power in the data center is cloudy at best.

However, there could be an answer - smart grid. Large-scale solar and wind energy deployment has been difficult to deal with because the power is variable in nature. But smart grid can more intelligently communicate power requirements and distribute and store excess energy more effectively. This makes the technology an ideal partner with renewable energy resources and could lead to more accessible green power moving forward. Smart grid may not cut the costs of private solar power deployments, but it could make less expensive wind turbines more viable and use solar energy more efficiently, making the solution more accessible.

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