Should your datacenter be run by solar power? Probably not.

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In my neck of the woods I’m hearing a lot from organizations that want funding to improve the power efficiency of their HPC center by adding solar generated power to the juice they suck from the commercial power grid. This is ok as it goes, but will be really, really, expensive, and unless you’re in area (like Maui) where you are paying a really high price for power (or unless you can’t get anymore juice out of the commercial grid), it’s probably not a cost effective idea today.

Case in point, a post at Enterprise IT Planet that points out this article in Consulting Engineer

If you’re not Google, and you’re not willing to move your data center into the ocean or desert to take advantage of waves and wind, can your data center be powered by renewable energy? With solar arrays, the answer is yes. Array prices have come down considerably in recent months, and in a recent edition of Consulting-Specifying Engineer, Emerson showcases its brand-new St. Louis-based data center with a roof-mounted solar array capable of producing up to 16% of the data center’s power needs.

The article steps through the many considerations that go into the decision of whether or not to build a solar array. The location of the data center (sunny locales with plentiful tax incentives work best), the size of the data center (large data centers with offices provide more roof space), the type of photo array (fixed or tracking, which are more efficient but more expensive), the location of the data center from the proposed array (shorter runs are better since the array outputs in DC), how the array will interact with the existing power grid, and how long the array will take to return the investment made (in Emerson’s case, it’s 20 years) are all factors to consider

In Emerson’s case, the payback is 20 years, with only 16% of its power needs coming from Mother Sun. It would take a special set of circumstances indeed — including an organizational mandate to move to alternative energy even with long investment recovery timelines — to lead to a business decision to go solar in a large datacenter today. Religious decisions (or Presidential orders) to make the change are another thing entirely.


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  1. Maybe it’s not totally run by solar power, but hybrid might be posible