Datacentres can play a bigger role in grid sustainability

While improvements in energy efficiency have kept electricity consumption in datacentres in check, according to the International Energy Agency, to reach net zero, emissions must halve by 2030.

Server processors may well become better at running new workloads efficiently but the appetite for data processing does not look like abating. Even as servers increase in energy efficiency, this is likely to be offset by ever-growing data storage and network requirements. And the heat produced by all this processing, needs to be expelled.

Datacentre cooling requirements are directly linked to the heat produced by the load put on servers, storage and networking hardware. “The way to look at energy should start with reducing consumption,” Sune Tornbo Baastrup, senior vice-president and chief information officer (CIO) at Danfoss told Computer Weekly in a recent interview. “If we don’t start with reducing consumption, we will not be able to provide enough energy.”

Greenhouse heat

At Danfoss, excess heat is being piped into a greenhouse. A heat recovery system could be used to transport heat out of the datacentre so it can be used to heat homes. Bristol university, for instance, could use the heat generated by its new supercomputer cluster to feed into the Bristol city district heat network.

The conversation with Basstrup covered a number of ideas that datacentre operators could deploy if they want to get serious about energy-efficiency. One could start by looking at the dirty secret hiding in plain sight on the side of a datacentre facility: datacentres rely on diesel generators for backup electricity in the event of a power grid failure. It is well-known that if it is contaminated, diesel fuel can cause engine failures, resulting in the inability to generate power if there is a grid outage. Fuel is flushed regularly and the generators need to be tested monthly. While some operators are installing battery storage as backups to replace these generators, there appears to be missed opportunities in supporting a sustainable electricity grid.

Datacentre operators do have the ability to buy energy when it is cheapest. The idea of a smart energy grid means they can help to balance demands on electricity grid with their workload requirements. Maybe a backup can be scheduled in when grid usage is at its lowest? Coordinating dirty diesel generator testing, combined with the ability to export excess electricity, could help the grid manage peak electricity usage.

Datacentre operators need to work more closely with their local electricity grid. What’s more, in the case of onsite battery storage – they may even be able to take in excess green energy from solar and wind farms.

Data Center
Data Management