Renewable Energy Options For Data Centres

There is increasing pressure on the IT industry to adopt green business practices by making use of renewable energy. This pressure not only comes from outside factions such as environment organisations, but from within the industry itself, as the global energy crisis threatens spin out of control and send the cost of power soaring. Data centres are notorious power drains, which makes them the most obvious starting place when it comes to addressing renewable energy.

According to John Timmer from Ars Technica, set up costs, running costs and stability are three of the most important factors in determining the credibility of a power source. Timmer believes that renewable energy has the edge over carbon or fossil fuels because, even though the initial set up costs might be higher, the running costs are significantly lower than traditional energy sources. In addition, the price of renewable energy isn't likely to rise with demand, which means that running costs will remain relatively stable. Renewable energy is also less likely to suffer from periodic interruption owing to political instability or controversial world events.

As renewable energy becomes achievable, location will become an important determining factor in building data centres. We have already seen Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! choose the Pacific Northwest in the US for some of their data centres, so that they can benefit from the region's use of cheap hydropower. Upstate New York has also become a popular site for data centres, as it makes use of hydropower from Hydro-Quebec.

While hydropower is relatively stable and constant, one of the major problems with other renewable energy sources is that they are only periodically available. The sun only shines for a limited number of hours per day and the wind doesn't always blow, which means that the storage of renewable energy is of paramount importance. This is where hydroelectric power has the advantage, as storage systems have been in use for a long time already. Energy (in the form of water) is simply pumped into reservoirs during off-peak hours, which is then used when demand begins to climb.

Hydroelectric power systems have one major disadvantage, however, and that is the fact that they make use of fresh water, which is not always in abundant supply. Advances in desalination could play an important role here, however, by neatly circumventing the problem.

Techniques for storing solar energy have also been used for years, which makes this a viable alternative for data centres. Another factor that plays into the hands of data centre owners is the fact that the sun shines during peak usage times, so power supply isn't such a major issue at night.

According to John Timmer and Ars Technica, other options include charge storage, which is still experimental, chemical storage, particularly with the use of hydrogen, compressed air, which requires convenient, airtight geological formations and thermal storage. Iceland currently makes use of a combination of hydro and geothermal power, while an American data centre company claims to use the wind to generate enough power to keep all its systems running smoothly.

However you look at it, the business of renewable energy is big news in the world of IT. And as companies continue to grow, and demand for data storage continues to rise, renewable energy is likely to play an increasingly important role in IT business considerations.

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Sandra wrote this article for the online marketers Star Business Internet internet service provider and website hosting one of the leading Internet service companies specialising in business website hosting in the UK

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