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Green IT Amsterdam expert on data centres as players in energy networks

Green IT Amsterdam expert on data centres as players in energy networks

Vasiliki Georgiadou, Project Manager, Green IT Amsterdam, looks at why the data centre and energy sectors must be brought closer together and start talking the same language to trigger real change. Content supplied by the DCA.

The continuous infusion of IT services in our daily lives, with the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), distributed data centres and the cloudification of legacy computer systems, brings data centres to the front lines. Data centres are often, and accurately, perceived as critical infrastructures of our times with concerns regarding their energy consumption dominating public discussions. Partially such concerns are very much valid indeed. Their energy consumption in the EU is predicted to reach 104 TWh in 2020, after all. And energy is a precious commodity.

As such, to ensure sustained availability, reliability and security of Europe’s critical infrastructures, data centres continuously reinforce their investments towards energy efficient business innovation. However, with the highly efficient and ever-evolving cooling technologies available along with IT consolidation and virtualisation techniques, PUE focused energy reduction and efficiency solutions no longer offer high returns.

For sure, the usefulness of a data centre resides in the data processed, stored and transferred within and outside its boundaries. And although difficult at times to measure uniformly among data centres, the industry has made leaps and bounds on handling their core business effectively.

Nevertheless, a fundamental viewpoint, so far overlooked in the mainstream discussions, must be considered: at the end of the day, a data centre is nothing else but a system where electricity comes in and heat comes out. Heat that in most cases is being just rejected to the surrounding environment, wasted. But looking at the energy flows within a data centre, a new series of solutions can emerge.

A data centre can optimise both its design and operations to deliver heat to local heating (and cooling) networks. They can recover, redistribute and reuse their residual heat for building space heating (residential and non-residential such as hospitals, hotels, greenhouses and pools), service hot water and industrial processes.

Depending on the cooling technology in use, the data centre may harvest heat at the desirable temperature level. In any case, a heat pump may be in place to increase, as necessary, the low calorific heat generated by the data centre before its delivery to the heat grid. The data centre may also be able to adjust its server room temperature set points to increase the amount of thermal energy generated.

A data centre may capitalise on the use of a heat storage, such as a thermal energy storage system, to store heat during the summer and deliver it to the heat grid during the winter in addition to the direct heat normally supplied, increasing its heat capacity.

The main barrier in these scenarios is actually raised by local policies, operations and infrastructures that may or may not be in place to enable recovery, redistribution and reuse of residual heat.

So, it also falls on the shoulders of the local communities and area developers. There are examples where indeed all stakeholders work together to ensure data centres can integrate their own operations to the needs and wants of other sectors, linking their commons (B2B).

Such an example is the Green Datacentre Campus in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, with the Schiphol Area Development Company (SADC), a Green IT Amsterdam participant, orchestrating the efforts.

Other communities are also offering similar solutions each of them leveraging on their unique geographical, technological and business characteristics. For example, at Stockholm Data Parks, a data centre is by default offered the opportunity to plug into the city’s district heating network (B2C).

Heat services are not however the only answer. Data centres actually have the potential to offer a diverse portfolio of energy related services by exploiting their IT operations and power and cooling infrastructure to also participate at emerging electricity, heat and energy flexibility markets.

Following this line of thought, the next generation of data centres should, by design, utilise resources effectively, while ensuring seamless integration with their Smart City ecosystem: smart grids and heating networks.

In this context, once again simply focusing on energy reduction and efficiency practices applied only within the boundaries of one’s data centre is no longer an option for those with the ambition to own and operate the green data centres of the future.

Silos must be broken down for data centres to reach their full potential capitalising on their unique position as overlaying multiple networks: IT, electricity and heat.

Such is the frame of reference for the EU H2020 CATALYST project that aspires for data centres to become flexible energy hubs, which can sustain investments in renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. Leveraging on results of past projects, CATALYST will adapt, scale up, deploy and validate an innovative technological and business framework that enables data centres to offer a range of mutualised energy services to both electricity and heat grids, while simultaneously increasing their own resiliency to energy supply.

Mutual energy services will be consisting of energy flexibility, security and optimised management tailored to data centre operators and targeting at managing the available non-grid renewable (PV, local storage, heat pumps) and non-renewable (backup generators) energy assets as well as the IT assets (via cloud-based geo-spatio-temporal IT virtualisation).

Such energy services will be provided by data centres through appropriate open, standardised energy flexibility marketplaces, based for example on market models as defined by the Universal Smart Energy Framework (USEF). These marketplaces may be instantiated either as mono-carrier energy marketplaces (electricity vs heat marketplace) cleared sequentially, or as multi-energy marketplaces.  Along this innovative value chain, new stakeholders will be willing to provide such energy services to data centres, like ESCOs, energy suppliers, aggregators, IT and cloud solution and technology providers. Cross-energy carrier synergies among electricity and heat can also be exploited and managed with a view to leverage and exploit flexibility potential of one energy carrier to offer energy services to another.

In this way, the CATALYST vision introduces a ‘Marketplace as a Service’ (MaaS) instantiated in three emerging and innovative data centre revenue streams and markets: a) IT workload b) Electricity and Heat and c) Energy Flexibility.

To reach this vision however it is imperative that the data centre and energy sectors are brought closer together and start talking the same language. The newly launched Green Data Centre Stakeholder Group, established by the CATALYST consortium, aims to do just that.

For data centres to take up a pivotal role in energy transition, will bring opportunities for energy efficient data centres to not only reduce their operating costs and improve their performance and efficient use of resources, but also create new revenue streams through waste energy reuse and energy flexibility services offerings.

Green IT Amsterdam is a non-profit organisation that supports the wider Amsterdam region in realising its energy transition goals. Its mission is to scout, test and showcase innovative IT solutions for increasing energy efficiency and decreasing carbon emissions. It shares knowledge, expertise and ambitions for achieving these sustainability targets with public and private green IT leaders.

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