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Datacentre operators should consider striking heat reuse agreements in the communities where their facilities are sited, as a nod to the effect their activities can have on the local resources.
The point was made during a panel session at the DatacenterDynamics Converged conference in London on 19 November 2015, as part of a wider discussion about the viability of creating green-powered datacentres.
The relatively high cost and low availability of renewable energy means few operators are currently in a position to fully embrace it as the sole source of power for their facilities, but selling-on the heat their sites generate would be a step in the right direction, the panel agreed.
“It can be much easier and cheaper to be part of the heat reuse side,” said Ari Kurvi, datacentre manager at Russian search engine Yanex, who has embarked on a similar arrangement in Finland with its datacentre to heat around 5,000 homes.
“In our case, it was around a half a million investment and the payback time is two years. In that sense, it’s a good investment and we can heat the local city for half the year with our excess heat,” he said.
Jack Pouchet, board member and vice-president of the datacentre efficiency consortium The Green Grid, said that as operators move to occupy more space in inner cities and populated areas, it is important for them to consider the effect their actions have on the local environment.
“As datacentres reach hyper-scale size – and I’m not just talking 30 megawatts, but 100 megawatt campuses or a 500 megawatt campuses – you’re talking about a tremendous amount of energy being consumed, and a lot of resources that could be available to the broader community and the broader ecosystem,” he said.
In terms of what to give back, datacentre operators may choose to embark on power purchase agreements or invest in the development their own renewable power sources may feed into the local electricity grid, as well as heat reuse schemes. Either way, Kurvi said, it is time the industry did more.
“The paper mills in the1940s and 1950s also played a part in the community. They provided heat and power to the community, and it makes sense for us to do the same," he said.
“I think we need to step out of the box and say what we can do for the community. Providing IT services [is one thing], but we have a lot else we can give, along with the heat and power as well.”
Datacentres giving back to the community
Similarly, Pouchet made a case for datacentre providers to become more mindful of the environmental effect of their activities on local communities.
A lot of operators have taken steps to get the power usage effectiveness (PUE) scores for their facilities in the one range, but the amount of carbon and water they consume as part of their operations also needs to be taken into account.
“You can trade-off carbon for water and you can trade-off electricity for water, and that’s really nice, but there are a billion people on the face of this planet who wake up every morning without access to portable water and that number is only growing. It’s not getting smaller,” he said.
“So we have to be good stewards, and there is a lot of social pressure for us to take a look at this.”
Speaking to Computer Weekly, Zahl Limbuwala, CEO of datacentre optimisation supplier Romonet, said datacentre operators should not shy away from giving something back to the community.
“Unless you happen to be located where there are no humans around, and there are datacentres worldwide like that, most facilities are in metropolitan areas and they absolutely should be low impact on their local environment,” said Limbuwala.
“If you can have a datacentre campus in a city that has district heating and you can reject the water from your facility into the district heating and dispose of it that way, why wouldn’t you?”
Read more about sustainable datacentre use
- The PUE rating for measuring datacentre energy efficiency is often used by operators to differentiate their facilities from their competitors.
- Greenpeace has graded 110 of the internet’s most popular websites based on their use of renewable energy sources so web users can weigh up the site owners’ approach to sustainable energy use.