Monday, 29 June 2009

Solar Servers

Humans are having a big impact on the world, and learning how to slow and eventually stop the processes that are affecting our environment is of key importance to humanity. Not only is it important from an environmental perspective, it is important for preparation for life without fossil fuels, which will become reality in the not too distant future. The technologies that have been developed in the past 20 years which include super efficient batteries, electric motors, and solar panels, will help to cut our reliance on coal and gas power stations to a level that would help our planet re-stabilise itself.

Data Centres use between 3-4% of all electricity produced in the world. As a major drain on the planet's resources, the sector as a whole needs to look at how much power we are using, what can be done to reduce power consumption and whether it will ever be viable to run a Data Centre that is environmentally neutral. At present, the only area that can be run totally neutrally is computer room air conditioning. Using fresh air cooling, Data Centres can make use of low external temperatures to cool an entire facility effectively for free, saving 40-50% of the overall power costs.

But what about the other 50-60% which provides the power to run the servers themselves? Many environmentally conscious Data Centre operators are choosing to use power from green sources like wind farms and hydroelectric but there is not enough of this type of power available for everybody. In the UK, solar panels have never been that effective at generating power and initial outlay far exceeds the returns that would be gained from the amount of power they can produce. Systems like the solar-thermal power plant in Seville, Spain are significantly more effective than the traditional solar panel, using heliostats to track the sun and concentrate its thermal energy into a heat exchanger that powers a steam turbine. It currently produces 11MW of power according to its owner, Solucar, which could power 4 or 5 large Data Centres, but the system requires a large amount of space and strong sunshine to operate at this level. Being 100% environmentally neutral by combining this technology with fresh air cooling, is not a viable option as they both require very different environments.

Two inventors, one in Massachusetts and one in Missouri, have come up with two different ideas to make solar technology cheap and efficient, both claiming 70-80% efficiency (normal solar panels range from 10-40% efficiency with a steep increase in cost) and at a fraction of current prices. One inventor has created two different materials that can be sprayed onto glass or plastic which create different layers of conductive metals to produce electrical power. The second inventor has used nanoantennae, tiny loops of highly conductive metal, each 1/25 the diameter of a human hair which can be stamped onto a variety of materials and harness power through the infra-red part of the light spectrum. The benefit of this system is that during the day the antenna can absorb power from the sun, but at night they can absorb the stored infra-red energy in the ground which is given off long into the night after the sun has gone down. Both are promising technologies and when the eventually go on sale they may be the answer to the environmentally neutral Data Centre.

Making your Data Centre as efficient as possible will reduce your yearly power bill significantly. Some very small, often free changes can return 5-10% savings in power. Migration Solutions are specialist consultants who created their ERA, Environmental Report and Assessment, to help Data Centre and computer room operators save running costs and extend the life of servers and their support equipment. For more information visit or call 0845 251 2255

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