IBM Solar Project Could Mean Good Things for Data Centres

Apr 29, 2013 | 1 comment

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Last week IBM took advantage of the worldwide celebration of Earth Day to announce a new scientific collaboration they hope will produce a photovoltaic system that will, once and for all, establish solar power as a real, viable option for renewable energy. According to reports, IBM's system will be able to capture solar rays and boost them 2,000 times in a package that is affordable and can be constructed with common materials. They also claim 80% of the sun's energy will be usable through their system. The key to the project's success is the design of their prototype solar collector. The collector consists of a parabolic dish, hundreds of mirrors, photovoltaic chips, and a tracking system to keep the dish optimally aligned with the sun throughout the daylight hours. Boosting the energy by 2,000 times is made possible using a revolutionary liquid cooling system. The cooling system is based on systems now being used for some of the world's fastest supercomputers. By utilising liquid cooling, the photovoltaic chips can maintain a constant temperature for peak operation throughout the day. Air-cooled systems just aren't capable of that kind of efficiency. Funding for the project, known as the High Concentration Photovoltaic Thermal (HCPVT), is being provided by a grant from the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation. The £1.6 million grant has been awarded to scientists from IBM, Airlight Energy, and two schools who will all work in partnership to develop the system. If they are successful, the team will be able to produce tremendous amounts of power that some speculate could cost less than ten cents (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour.

What This Means for Data Centres

Within the current environment, one of the biggest challenges for data centre companies is to design and build new facilities able to take advantage of renewable power sources. Yet because of the tremendous amounts of energy such facilities consume, renewable energy sources can be costly and limited in availability. Success by the IBM team could change that drastically. Imagine a new data centre being constructed in an area with abundant sunshine and access to the local power grid. Placing these new advanced solar collectors on site could potentially provide all of the power and cooling needs while also sending the excess energy back into the grid. With some energy storage units on site, the data centre may never need to tap into external power sources. If the heat generated by the data centre could also be harnessed and turned into energy, the entire site would be that much more efficient. This could be just what the global community needs as we continue to race headlong into a world where everyone is interconnected. Before we get ahead of ourselves, the thing to remember about solar energy is that it is tremendously inefficient. It will take some time for IBM and its team to work out all of the kinks necessary to produce a commercially viable product. In the meantime, we will keep working with the energy sources we have.

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