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Airsys expert on fresh air free-cooling as a likely solution to rising energy prices

Airsys expert on fresh air free-cooling as a likely solution to rising energy prices

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Energy inflation has increased in every major economy, particularly Europe, and has been responsible for over half of the increase in Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation in advanced nations. As a result, it doesn’t matter if you are running a business or a household, no one is immune to the impact of rising energy prices. Matthew Thompson, Managing Director, Europe, Airsys, tells us what we can expect if high energy prices persist and how cooling technology can be the solution for data centre and telecoms organisations to circumvent high inflation and increasing energy costs.

Matthew Thompson, Managing Director, Europe, Airsys

All that live on this little blue dot we call Earth are currently witnessing a perfect storm. With the global economic recovery continuing post COVID-19 and extreme weather events, the demand for energy across the globe is increasing, and combined with geopolitical tensions, never in such a way have energy prices been under the global spotlight. Whether you are running a business or a household, no one is immune to the impact of rising energy prices. A key driver of the surge in inflation across advanced economies and the associated ‘cost of living crisis’, not seen since the 1970s, has been the huge jump in energy prices. Energy inflation has increased in every major economy, with Europe being particularly affected. Energy alone has been responsible for over half of the increase in Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation in advanced economies.

In the spring of 2020, as COVID-19 spread from China around the world, resulting in countries going into lockdown, the price of crude oil crashed due to the lack of demand. Oil producers were paying people to take oil off their hands, as they didn’t have enough space to store it all. After this, OPEC+ which is made up of 26 oil producing countries, including Russia, who together produce around 40% of the world’s crude oil agreed to slash production by 10 million barrels a day to help drive the price back up. However, some feel these cuts were too deep and since the start of the Ukraine conflict, the price of crude oil soared to well over US$100 a barrel because of panic on the markets. OPEC+ are now increasing the supply of crude oil at a slow rate, but this does not take into account the effects of the war in Ukraine.

While liquified natural gas (LNG) can be shipped, similar to oil, most gas is transported through fixed pipelines. This means that prices can differ considerably between regions depending on local demand and supply conditions. Low stocks, a tendency for governments to source short-term contracts and the war in Ukraine leading to threatened European gas supplies have added a considerable premium to market prices, resulting in a gas price rise of over 300% since last year. Gas is predominantly used to heat homes across Europe but is also used for electricity generation. Germany is particularly reliant on gas to keep its citizens warm and power its factories to keep its economy functioning.  

AIRSYS is an expert in cooling solutions with a pedigree in delivering low OPEX solutions for critical environments

The inconvenient truth is that Western governments have seen the warning signs from countries with emerging hostilities and read the scientific-backed evidence of climate change for decades but have been exceedingly slow to adapt and transition to new means of electricity generation. Instead, they have opted for the reliance of natural resources from questionable countries with different ideologies to our own. The result is that until countries can become energy secure by building their own sustainable energy infrastructure such as nuclear, solar, wind and hydro electrical generation, volatile energy prices are here to stay.  

Industries that process data and keep the world connected, such as the telecoms and data centre sectors, have been particularly affected by the increase in energy prices. Colocation providers that offer all-in customer pricing models are particularly affected, bearing the cost of rising energy prices, and seeing a deteriorating bottom line.  Sungard UK, who are a well-known data centre and colocation services company, went into administration earlier this year and their insolvency was partly blamed on surging UK energy prices.

If high energy prices are here to stay in the short to mid-term, what can data centre and telecoms operators do to reduce their OPEX, whilst not comprising the operation of their estate? Well, the two biggest energy demands for a typical data centre are the servers and then the cooling systems that maintain the temperature of the critical environment. Airsys are experts in cooling solutions with a pedigree in delivering low OPEX solutions for critical environments, and we believe cooling technology has the solution. However, this relies upon people who operate within these sectors to change their mindset and approach, looking at the problem from a different perspective. The answer lies with fresh air. Fresh air has been overlooked for years by operators and consultants, who don’t believe it is a viable solution. However, Airsys have been delivering tried and tested, fresh air free-cooling solutions into telecom and data centre environments for years with great success, substantially lowering our clients’ operational costs and carbon footprint. Whether you have an existing facility or are looking to build a new facility, with our comprehensive range of products, we have a solution that can deliver fresh air free-cooling within your environment. All you need is access to an external wall.

Within Northern Europe, for a large portion of the year the external ambient temperature falls within the ASHRAE limits, allowing for fresh air free-cooling to take place, delivering outside air into the data centre or telecoms environment. For the few hours of the year where the ambient temperature isn’t suitable, that is the moment when mechanical or evaporative cooling is relied upon. Airsys products, whether floor standing CRAC units or wall mounted packaged units, come with integrated mechanical cooling to cover the peak temperatures throughout the year. If we consider London and assume we are looking to achieve server inlet temperatures of 25oC, then a fresh air solution could deliver free cooling for 8,653 hours out of a possible 8,760 hours per year.

Some clients and consultants have been hesitant in utilising the benefits of fresh air free-cooling, with their arguments focusing on humidity levels, pollutants and in some cases opting for a chilled water solution with free-cooling chillers. Firstly, although a good solution, a chilled water design will always transition from free cooling to mechanical cooling at a much lower ambient temperature. Additionally, when free-cooling, a chilled water solution will still need to run indoor fans, outdoor fans and pumps to transfer the cooling medium and cool the environment. An Airsys fresh air free-cooling solution only requires the indoor fans to operate, thus requiring less power input. Furthermore, our CRAC range when in free-cooling mode bypasses the evaporator cooling coil, thereby lowering the fan power, something a traditional free-cooling chilled water solution cannot provide. Humidity also doesn’t pose a problem. Ambient humidity levels are typically within acceptable ranges for the majority of the year, but when they are outside of scope, our external sensors transition the system into mechanical cooling. Mitigating the risk of introducing pollutants is achieved with correct filtration and adequate maintenance regimes. In recent years, Airsys have delivered more than a thousand units in the UK, in numerous cities, delivering fresh air free-cooling without incident.

Although, it’s not the single solution in resolving the issues caused by high energy prices, fresh air free-cooling is certainly a solution that is readily available to lower your operating costs and reduce your organisation’s impact on the environment, delivering a more sustainable future. Let the fresh air free-cooling revolution begin.

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