The data centre sector has grown hugely over the last couple of decades. Data centres are already responsible for 2% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions; they are set to consume a fifth of the entire world’s power output by 2025 due to the rapid adoption of data driven services.
Diesel generators have been the stand-by solution of choice to support data centres because of their cost and rapid response times, but tighter emissions legislation is making this solution unacceptable. In the short-term diesel generators will continue to be in widespread use; we believe however that an opportunity exists to blend power from our systems with other technologies to create an alternative continuous energy strategy which reduces emissions.
As major power users – and especially where data centres are located in clusters – data centre growth must align with grid capacity. On their part, electricity grid operators are constantly challenged to maintain a stable supply as well as ensuring that there is sufficient supply to meet peak demands. With intermittent renewables growing as a proportion of the overall energy mix, grid operators are finding it even more difficult to balance supply to demand.
Instead, they are looking to increase the flexibility of the grid through a number of demand-side strategies – either storing, shifting or transporting electricity. 2020 saw two interesting global developments that evidences the move away from solely diesel generation for data centre back-up power. Google announced that it will use large batteries to replace the diesel generators at one of its data centres in Belgium, describing the project as a first step towards using cleaner technologies to provide backup power for its millions of servers around the world and stating that it “aims to demonstrate that a better, cleaner solution has advanced far enough to keep the internet up and running”.
Google became the second major hyperscale cloud operator in 2020 to pursue a strategy to move beyond diesel generators. In July, Microsoft said it would eliminate its reliance on diesel fuel by the year 2030 and has begun testing hydrogen fuel cells as an alternative. These announcements have implications beyond company-built facilities, as Google and Microsoft are major tenants in third-party data centres, most of which use diesel generators for backup power.
Our Strategic Partnership with ABB was extended in April 2021 to develop zero-emission power solutions for the global data centre market. You can read more on our partnership with ABB here and our announcement on data centres here.