Free Power & Cooling for Data Centres on the Horizon?

Apr 15, 2013

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Every year the Uptime Institute honours individual technology organisations for their creative ideas through the Green Enterprise IT Awards. This year's winner, TeraCool, has proposed a way of powering Europe's data centres at virtually no cost. If the company is successful in convincing others, it could change the landscape of the data centre industry entirely. The idea is to locate data centres within close proximity to liquid natural gas (LNG) facilities. Those facilities could provide data centres with all the energy needed for power and cooling, without any additional expenditure on the part of either one. It all comes down to the process in which liquid natural gas is used. When LNG arrives at a plant, it is stored in a large tank until it is needed. However, in its liquid form it offers no benefit. In order to make it usable the LNG facility changes it from a liquid back into a gas through the process of vaporization. That process releases energy stored in the liquid gas; energy that is currently allowed to simply escape unused. By harnessing that energy, data centres could make use of it to power their operations. Not only is it efficient and cost-effective, it can also be done at very low temperatures. It seems an ideal way to harness the unused energy generated every day by the LNG industry. According to TeraCool officials, a handful of LNG plants have already expressed interest in exploring the idea further. Officials further claim that one of the plants they looked at, a 22-tank operation in South Korea, is capable of producing up to 350 MW of energy. Even the largest data centres in the world only have need of about 30 MW or so for cooling. The biggest downside to the idea is that the data centres would only be able to make use of the energy if it is supplied at a steady rate. Because the typical LNG plant vaporises gas only as needed, providing a consistent flow of usable energy could be a challenge. Perhaps a storage method could be worked out to solve that problem.

Making it Happen

Making this idea happen is something TeraCool is serious about. We hope they succeed. It would be a great day in data centre technology if the potential difficulties can be overcome in a way that benefits both our industry and the LNG industry. Green is the way we're going; the TeraCool proposal is just the next cog in the wheel. In other green energy news, the London Array just completed the construction phase of their project in the Thames estuary. The project is yet another example of how green energy has quickly gaining ground in Europe. It's just what the data centre and IT sectors need right now, especially at a time when they are pushing all of their financial resources into optical fibre networks. If the cost of energy can be reduced significantly, it will certainly help with the technology push going forward.