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Renewable energy for data centres

RenewIT, a three-year EU project to investigate how data centres can be designed and operated to make more efficient use of renewable energy has been announced. The project, which is co-funded by the EU with a budget of 3.6m Euros, will develop tools and research that will help data-centre operators develop a more economically viable strategy for using on-site sources of renewable energy such as solar, wind and biomass - and renewable cooling, including outside air cooling and sea-water cooling.

The main challenges in using renewable energy for data centre power are cost, capacity, the lack of integration and the unreliability of its implementation. Existing data-centre infrastructure is geared to a continuous power flow but renewable sources, such as solar and wind, fluctuate depending on the day, time and the season. The project will develop tools to help match the applications and workloads being executed by the data centre with the intermittent flow of energy from on-site renewables.

The project is intended to have five main outcomes:

The RenewIT tool will be a web-based planning tool to enable data-centre operators to understand the running costs of a facility that uses a high-proportion of on-site or grid renewable energy. The costs would relate not just to economic, and energy-consumption issues but also to sustainability.

A large part of the project’s focus will be on developing workload management and scheduling, this will be accomplished by developing algorithms for scheduling workloads within a facility, or between facilities using a monitoring and control platform. It will build on existing research about the most efficient relationships between performance and energy consumption, and moving workloads across time zones to maximise the use of the cheapest, greenest power.

The project hopes to develop concepts for the integration of data centres. The team will quantify the benefits of various energy concepts that will then be integrated into strategies that use multiple solutions to provide the most efficient system. The potential solutions being investigated include renewable heat sources, renewable power generation, renewable cooling, energy storage (daily or seasonal), heat-pumps to increase the temperature of waste heat from data centres, solar cooling and heat re-use and the possible interaction with district heating and cooling systems.

A validation process in collaboration with eight data centres across Europe will be implemented to exchange continuous feedback with the technical developers. Based on existing case studies, the validation process will use live data centres to test the robustness and the end-user applicability of the project’s technical energy concepts and the simulation software tools.

RenewIT will contribute to the establishment of a standard approach to data-centre IT workload management, energy evaluation, incorporating infrastructure, equipment, and renewables. New ways of evaluating load matching and the relationship between loads, the generation of renewable energy and the grid interaction flexibility will help operators understand how a particular technical solution can meet the needs of the data centre and the grid.

The project will also tackle the issue of how to integrate data centres efficiently with smart-cities infrastructure by plugging into smart or micro grids, as well as strategies such as redirecting waste heat to other businesses and residential accommodation.

RenewIT is led by the not-for-profit energy research centre, Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC). Dr Jaume Salom, of IREC and project co-ordinator of RenewIT, said:  ‘The main roadblocks to using renewable energy to power data centres are the perceived costs and the lack of tools to help operators make decisions about renewable energy. This project aims to overcome some of these obstacles by designing tools to evaluate the environmental performance and the share of renewable energy sources in the emerging concept of net zero energy data centres.’

In addition to the IREC, both commercial and scientific organisations makeup the membership of RenewIT. The other members are 451 Research, Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC), Loccioni Group of Italy, AIGUASOL, Amsterdam-based datacentre design specialist DEERNS, and Technische Universität Chemnitz.


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