Data centres – windowless, featureless spaces packed with computer servers that collect, store, transfer and process data – have become the information factories of the digital economy. With global demand for data skyrocketing, their environmental footprint could grow to more than one-fifth of total global energy in the near future. Bringing renewable power to a data centre is an admirable and necessary step in pursuing a more sustainable future. “Data centre providers need new revenue streams, earned from outside of their core business operation. They need to seize the ample opportunities stemming from the evolution of renewables and invest in them to reduce their carbon footprint,” notes Diego Arnone, coordinator of the EU-funded CATALYST project.
Not showy, yet an integral element of smart cities
Far from the simple storage facilities of the past, data centres could play a whole new ball game within smart city networks. “Data centres can serve as multi-commodity hubs that provide flexible services to key stakeholders of a smart city, such as distribution system operators and other energy prosumers. Proper technologies that exploit the intrinsic redundancy of data centre equipment could allow data centres to provide innovative energy services that do not affect the performance of the centres’ core operation at all. This is a brand new concept that offers data centre providers the chance to earn money for renewable energy investments,” adds Arnone. So far, few practical solutions have been deployed onsite data centres that measure up to the exciting data from the labs. Technology fragmentation, excessive capital expenditure and lack of proper business models are impeding data centres from pivoting to renewable energy. Capitalising on previous successful endeavours, CATALYST unveiled a new carbon-intelligent platform that could turn existing and future data centres into flexible multi-energy hubs.
An energy flexibility ecosystem
CATALYST’s novel framework enables data centres not to be just a load on the grid, but rather generate value. It assesses different types of flexible services (electricity, heat and IT load) and trades them in a multi-commodity marketplace. Working more closely with carbon-free energy sources such as solar and wind, compute tasks could be shifted to other data centres to find the cheapest renewable energy prices. “This ‘follow the energy’ paradigm enables data centres to take advantage of energy price arbitrage by moving IT load between geographical areas served by different data centres and grid operators. Areas with excess renewable generation call for an opposite strategy – reverse demand response – where they are incentivised to actually turn up demand,” explains Arnone. The ultimate aim is to achieve energy consumption closer to the energy generation sources and match energy usage with 100 % renewable energy. Underutilised battery backup systems could also provide services for the grid. For example, they could help meet round-the-clock electricity demand, smooth out the small spikes and valleys in demand and prevent deviations from smart grid nominal frequency. CATALYST’s platform could put into place novel digital marketplace mechanisms in the form of marketplace-as-a-service tools to nurture new business models. Furthermore, it can adapt to any type of data centre – distributed, high-performance computing, colocation and legacy – and any architecture.
CATALYST, data centre, renewable energy, grid, smart city, battery backup, marketplace-as-a-service