Smart technologies for cleaner and greener data centers
Digital technologies are a pervasive, all-encompassing part of our day-to-day lives. And the key to enabling these technologies are data centers. These massive complexes contain networked computers and storage facilities, the very lifeblood that keeps the virtual world alive. And, it should be no surprise then that a regular supply of electricity is crucial to keep them operating.
“Data center businesses are now one of the biggest industrial users of electricity worldwide,” says Wärtsilä Data Centre Senior Manager Timo Mahlanen who explains that their capacity and power needs are growing exponentially.
“A data center is not just a plug-and-play facility,” adds Adam Rajewski, Manager, Data Centre Technology at Wärtsilä Energy Solutions. “They rely on extremely reliable, but also affordable, critical, and emergency power sources.”
Adopting cleaner and greener alternatives
Traditionally powered by electric grids and emergency diesel generators, data centers are growing so rapidly, that utility companies are facing difficulties meeting these increasing energy demands. Large, modern data centers are beginning to find the traditional grid-and-diesel solution unsustainable, both environmentally and economically.
“As data centers become larger, they become noticeable sources of emissions in local communities, which can lead to problems in obtaining environmental permits for new facilities due to high emission levels,” explains Rajewski.
Modern gas engines are a potent alternative. Using gas engines for both critical and emergency power generation significantly reduces emission levels compared with those produced by diesel generators.
As an expert in gas power generation and gas handling technologies, Wärtsilä offers a unique technology solution: gas-fired power plants, with the option to be fully renewable by using biogas.
“One area where our solution has a competitive edge is that we are able to combine our gas-fired power plant with liquefied natural gas or biogas storage,” explains Rajewski. “We are paving the way for completely new business models for data centers, where redundant engine capacity can be used to sell electricity to the grid.”
In Wärtsilä’s gas energy plants, large internal combustion engines offer highly efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective power – and replace backup diesel generators. “This ensures that data centers will not rely as heavily on power grids as before,” adds Rajewski.
Reducing CO₂ emissions to virtually zero
Switching to natural gas, a clean fuel, can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of a data center. “NOx and particle emissions are much lower on both global and local scales, and CO₂ emissions are significantly better due to the engines’ higher efficiency,” says Mahlanen.
Using a biogas liquefication pipeline or locally generated biogas also ensures very low emission levels overall. In fact, CO₂ emissions are virtually zero when biogas is used. Wärtsilä’s gas engine power plants use small-scale liquefied natural gas technologies, allowing fuel storage to be sufficient for several days of autonomous operations.
Their flexibility means that these plants are good for both new and old data centers as they can be adapted to suit a data center and its communities’ needs. They can be easily fitted into existing systems and are able to be powered by biogas or liquefied biogas (LBG) while using similar equipment to diesel generators.
By investing in biogas equipment, and not only storing but generating its own biogas supply onsite, a data center can become CO₂ emission-free with its own reliable, fully renewable power source. Data center operators can essentially select how green they want to be with Wärtsilä providing various data center business models that contain optional, environmentally friendly add-ons.
Data centers can install optional heat recovery systems to generate cooling power for the data center or heat for the local community, offering additional efficiency. “Gas engines can be used to generate power not only in emergencies but also in situations where there is no grid or where the grid is unstable,” explains Rajewski.
As the number of data centers requiring fast, reliable, affordable power source alternatives grow, Wärtsilä expects demand for gas-fired power plants to continue to rise in the future.