Networks Europe March/April 2019 - Page 22

22 GOING GREEN The opportunity for data centres The process of data involves converting masses of electricity into massive amounts of heat, which the data needs to get rid of. Yet, the same heat that’s a nuisance for data centres can be a valuable resource for the community. By looking beyond their own doors to collaborate with the community that they serve with all of their data needs and manage their thermal load collectively, everyone stands to benefit from more affordable energy bills. For the data centre, it could be an additional source of revenue, and for the community it’s a reliable source of low carbon, low-cost heat. Once you’ve looked at all the economic options for capturing waste heat in your local area, geo-exchange can provide the rest. Using deep boreholes to take advantage of the consistent ambient temperature of the earth, geo- exchange can provide both heating in winter and cooling in summer. The system uses electricity as its only input and can ‘time-shift’ energy by storing or drawing excess heat from the ground on either a short-term (hour by hour) or long-term (season by season) basis. In essence, it can ensure thermal loads are matched at all times, providing the same level of system flexibility as any other thermal source. A whole-systems approach Taking a local approach creates a different way of thinking about energy. It pushes us to take a holistic view of the system around us, not just thinking about energy, but about transport, data, infrastructure and behaviour, so that we can be smarter in meeting the needs of our businesses and communities. Taking a local approach, however, doesn’t mean that the benefits are only local, there are system-wide benefits too. Capturing waste heat and putting it to use reduces our consumption of fossil fuels. Creating an integrated, local grid heightens resilience, particularly against extreme weather and unplanned outages, and by being thermally efficient we can also increase energy productivity. As our data demand grows exponentially, we must stop to think about how we power this need. The amount of data that we need to process to keep up with the evolution of the Internet of Things can’t also see us exponentially increase power too – particularly as we strive to meet carbon and climate targets. So how can a data centre operator squeeze more out of the energy that they use? How can we process more kilobytes per kilowatt hour? The likes of Facebook and Amazon are already committing to power purchase agreements for renewable electricity, but the next move needs to be valuing waste heat properly. It’s a resource that can be recaptured and reused several times over and help to significantly improve energy productivity. After big weather events, we often see reports of energy infrastructure being damaged and becoming unavailable or running at a reduced capacity. Whereas keeping heat or cooling in the ground is virtually impossible to destroy, and with much of the infrastructure below ground, it offers a lower risk of damage. And in terms of disaster response, emergency responders increasingly depend on the data network – having critical infrastructure at full service, whether that be hospitals, fire and police stations or the data network for those responders to coordinate across, is lifesaving stuff. While many of these facilities will have backup generators for power, thermal provision is often overlooked. In a hospital where controlling the environment is critically important, a reliable, resilient system is key. So, as we step into this new world of augmented reality and the Internet of Things, it’s important that we take a moment to explore the new opportunities that this creates. And as urbanisation continues it will be especially important for those cities that are already struggling to meet the needs of their inhabitants. If we encourage everyone to share energy in this way, use can be optimised – meaning fewer resources required all round. n