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Questions raised over future datacentre energy and cooling requirements

Datacentre consultants are concerned that electricity grids will be unable to cope with future power demand and that free air cooling is unlikely to be effective if the planet warms up

Datacentre consultants have raised concerns over the capability of power grids to support the energy needs of datacentres. Over half (55%) of the 700 datacentre consultants who took part in an online survey, conducted by independent research company Censuswide for Aggreko, expressed at least some concern about the capabilities of the local grid and energy infrastructure’s ability to meet current demand.

The survey, the results of which were published in Aggreko’s Mission critical report, found that consultants in France, Norway and Sweden were the most confident in their local grid connections. UK respondents had much lower confidence levels in their country’s power grid compared with other European nations (with the exception of the Netherlands), with just 28% believing the electricity grid was “very able” to meet current and future demand.

Along with power concerns, over 40% of respondents said first-generation datacentres were not able to meet temperature challenges. Aggreko said this raised the question of whether facilities would be able to cope with a warming planet.

“Addressing the concerns of rising temperatures is already a priority for datacentres, and we have seen a trend towards free cooling being implemented in facilities,” said Chris Rason, managing director of Aggreko. “However, with temperatures on the increase, consultants are showing uncertainty as to whether facilities can indeed cope with the heat. 

“Datacentre operators and managers should ask themselves, ‘Can this facility cope with sustained periods of heat?’ If the answer is no, then considering alternative or temporary cooling solutions during peak periods should be encouraged,” he said.

The report found that across Europe as a whole, and in most individual countries, there was a high expectation that up to 40% of datacentre energy would come from renewable sources. Aggreko said if 40% of datacentre energy requirements came from renewables, there would be greater demand for backup power, as any increase in the use of renewables would in turn increase the resilience risk without adequate backup storage capacity.

Looking at the ability for datacentres to utilise renewable energy, more than half of the consultants (54%) identified energy storage as a key issue, closely followed by changing technology (51%). On a country-by-country basis, Norway (63%) and Ireland (62.75%) registered the highest concerns over the ability to store renewable energy, changing technology is seen as the biggest challenge in Germany (63.37%), cost is the biggest challenge for Sweden (56.44%) and skills shortage is a high concern for the UK (52%).

Renewable technology is a key driver for the datacentre market, and our research shows that both solar and wind are popular technologies,” said Rason. “However, as the use of these technologies increases, the risk to resilience also rises, especially during periods of intermittent energy supply. Energy storage is clearly a concern here, but as the use of diesel generators drops, operators and contractors need to look for greener solutions to ensure backup power is available during periods of intermittence.”

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