Smart city: Constructing materially smarter cities

Smart city: Constructing materially smarter cities

A smart city uses digitalisation-supported information and communication technology (ICT) in its diverse operational exercises, shares information and provides better governance.: Constructing materially smarter cities on Elkem.

 


Smart city: Constructing materially smarter cities

In 2050 close to 70 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in cities and the need for efficient infrastructure will increase. Did you know that the materials used on satellites and space applications play a crucial role in enabling smart and safe cities of the future?

There are different definitions of what a smart city actually is. As a general interpretation, however, consensus seems to align around that the term says something about the degree to which traditional networks and services are made more efficient with use of digital and telecommunication technologies – for the benefit of its inhabitants and businesses

The smart cities put data and digital technology to work to make better decisions and improve the quality of life for example by providing commuters with real-time traffic information, an asthma patient with information on high pollution areas or live usage load in city parks.

This is important, as a study by the World Bank has found that for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. The study estimates that 70 million new residents will be added to urban areas each year, indicating that more than 68 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.


Smart cities use Internet of  Things (IoT) devices, like sensors, lights, and meters to collect and analyse data. The cities can then use this data to improve infrastructure, public utilities and services, and more.
IoT is the concept of connecting any device to the Internet and to other connected devices (IBM, source).


Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2018)
Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2018)

Cities are also important for value creation and according to the World Bank, 72 percent of competitive cities outperformed their countries in terms of economic growth. In other words, we need the cities and their value creation.

A potential part of the solution

The rapid urbanisation will increase demand for services in urban areas exponentially and put pressure on population centres. In this future scenario, efficient, smart cities can represent a part of the solution.

Elkem has delivered metals and materials for the construction sector for several decades and play a key role in how cities are becoming better, smarter and more efficient.

Elkem’s silicon, ferrosilicon and Microsilica® are materials used to enhance properties and reduce emissions in the production of metals and concrete for the construction sector, and Elkem’s silicones are among other things used as sealants for flexible joints between construction materials, as well as for waterproofing windows, doors and facades.

In addition, silicones also have a wide range of usages within electronics.

“The extreme resistance of our materials, combining thermal and fire resistance as well as chemical stability, make silicones materials outstanding for long-term applications, where you either do not want to or cannot change materials frequently. This is the reason why silicones have become the material of choice in aviation, aerospace and automotive industry”, says Yves Giraud, global business manager in Elkem Silicones.

“For example, if you launch a satellite, you will not be able to change and inspect the materials every three years. The materials must be stable over a 15-year period in a very challenging environment. Another example is 5G antennas, which will become increasingly important as smart infrastructure, where Elkem’s material solutions are vital to protect critical functionalities and to reduce the need for maintenance and inspections for our customers”, says Giraud.

Another example is 5G antennas, which will become increasingly important as smart infrastructure, where Elkem’s material solutions are vital to protect critical functionalities and to reduce the need for maintenance and inspections for our customers”, says Giraud. 

Reliable, sustainable and innovative

With increased demand for new energy solutions and smart applications, the role of cables is also becoming more important. To meet demand, manufacturers are looking for safer, more reliable, sustainable and innovative solutions.

Silicone rubber insulated cables provides both heat and fire resistance, and present high mechanical properties. The materials therefore contribute to protecting our lives in the cities.

Another effect of smarter and more efficient cities is that the need for sensors and intelligence gathering equipment will increase. This is relevant, among other applications, on car windows, which ensure that the lights are switched on when it gets dark, or in buildings, enabling exterior doors and gates to automatically open when approached by people.

“We believe smarter cities are one of several drivers that will increase the need for safe products that lasts. The use of silicones in smart application is a great reusable alternative, and is also of significant sustainability value, generating energy and saving CO2 emissions nine times greater than the impacts of production and recycling”, says Giraud.

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Technical standards have a key role in achieving the SDGs

Technical standards have a key role in achieving the SDGs

“Standards are a hidden part of the information and communications technology networks and devices we all use daily”. This is how according to Chaesub Lee the technical standards have a vital role in achieving all SDGs.
We all know that ; then this is perhaps a way out of this traumatic vicious circle.

 

Opinion: Technical standards have a key role in achieving the SDGs

By 

Devex, 7 July 2022
Technical standards have a key role in achieving the SDGs
Technical standards can help address some of the most pressing needs of the planet. Photo by: Matthew Horwood / Alamy

Standards are a hidden part of the information and communications technology networks and devices that we all use every day. Though rarely perceived by users, they are vital in enabling the interconnection and interoperability of ICT equipment and devices manufactured by hundreds of thousands of different companies around the world.

For example, 95% of internet traffic is on fiber, built on standards from the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations for ICT. ITU has also played a leading role in managing the radio spectrum and developing globally applicable standards for 5G cellular networks.

But while technical standards are clearly indispensable for business and society to work in our industrialized world, it is also becoming clear that technical standards have a key role in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Indeed, the focus of the recent ITU Global Standards Symposium, which brought together more than 700 industry leaders and policymakers, was how standards can help address some of the most pressing needs of the planet, such as eradicating poverty or hunger and mitigating climate change.

To address SDGs 1 and 2 on ending poverty and hunger, an ITU focus group on “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) for Digital Agriculture” is working toward new standards to support global improvements in the precision and sustainability of farming techniques.

Under ITU and the World Health Organization, a focus group on “Artificial Intelligence for Health” aims to establish an “open code” benchmarking platform, highlighting the type of metrics that could help developers and health regulators certify future AI solutions in the same way as is done for medical equipment. Also, standards for medical-grade digital health devices — such as connected blood pressure cuffs, glucose monitors, or weight scales — are helping prevent and manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Standards are helping bring broadband to rural communities with lightweight optical cable that can be deployed on the ground’s surface with minimal expense and environmental impact. The installation of ultrahigh-speed optical networks typically comes with a great deal of cost and complexity. Standards can change that equation by providing a solution able to be deployed at low cost with everyday tools.

To address SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities, more than 150 cities around the world have started evaluating their progress toward smart-city objectives and alignment with the SDGs using so-called key performance indicators based on tech standards. These cities are supported by United for Smart Sustainable Cities, an initiative backed by ITU and 16 other U.N. partners.

 

International standards, recognized around the world, are essential for making technologies … accessible and useful to everyone, everywhere.

 

Addressing SDGs related to climate action and green energy, ITU standards for green ICT include sustainable power-feeding solutions for 5G networks, as well as smart energy solutions for telecom sites and data centers that prioritize the intake of power from renewable energy sources. They also cover the use of AI and big data to optimize data center energy efficiency and innovative techniques to reduce energy needs for data center cooling.

Financial inclusion is another key area of action to achieve SDG 1 on ending poverty. Digital channels are bringing life-changing financial services to millions of people for the very first time. Enormous advances have been made within the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative and the associated development of technical standards in support of secure financial applications and services, as well as reliable digital infrastructure and the resulting consumer trust that our money and digital identities are safe.

However, the complexity of global problems requires numerous organizations with different objectives and profiles to work toward common goals. Leading developers of international ICT standards need to work together to address the SDGs, using frameworks such as the World Standards Cooperation, with the support of mechanisms such as the Standards Programme Coordination Group — reviewing activities, identifying standards gaps and opportunities, and ensuring comprehensive standardization solutions to global challenges.

Including a greater variety of voices in standards discussions is crucial. It is particularly important that low- and middle-income countries are heard and that a multistakeholder approach is made a priority to have a successful and inclusive digital transformation.

Uncoordinated and noninclusive standardization can spell lasting harm for countries that already struggle to afford long-term socioeconomic investments. Without global and regional coordination, today’s digital revolution could produce uneven results, making it imperative that all standards bodies work cohesively.

Sustainable digital transformation requires political will. It was notable that last year in Italy for the first time, leaders from the G-20 group of nations used their final communiqué to acknowledge the importance of international consensus-based standards to digital transformation and sustainable development.

This important step could not have been made by one standards body alone.

Cities, governments, and companies face a significant learning curve while adopting new tech as part of low-carbon, sustainable, citizen-centric development strategies to meet the challenge of addressing the SDGs. International standards, recognized around the world, are essential for making technologies in areas like digital health and 5G — combined with bigger and better data use — accessible and useful to everyone, everywhere.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex’s editorial views.
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About the author
Technical standards have a key role in achieving the SDGs

Chaesub Lee

Chaesub Lee is the director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau at the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations for ICT. Lee has contributed to ICT standardization for over 30 years, specializing in areas such as integrated services digital networks, global information infrastructure, internet protocol, next-generation networks, internet protocol television, and cloud computing.

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Developing countries are being left behind in the AI race

Developing countries are being left behind in the AI race

Developing countries are being left behind in the AI race in spite of what is constantly vented out by the local media in the MENA region.

Developing countries are being left behind in the AI race – and that’s a problem for all of us

By Joyjit Chatterjee, University of Hull and Nina Dethlefs, University of Hull

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is much more than just a buzzword nowadays. It powers facial recognition in smartphones and computers, translation between foreign languages, systems which filter spam emails and identify toxic content on social media, and can even detect cancerous tumours. These examples, along with countless other existing and emerging applications of AI, help make people’s daily lives easier, especially in the developed world.

As of October 2021, 44 countries were reported to have their own national AI strategic plans, showing their willingness to forge ahead in the global AI race. These include emerging economies like China and India, which are leading the way in building national AI plans within the developing world.

Oxford Insights, a consultancy firm that advises organisations and governments on matters relating to digital transformation, has ranked the preparedness of 160 countries across the world when it comes to using AI in public services. The US ranks first in their 2021 Government AI Readiness Index, followed by Singapore and the UK.

Notably, the lowest-scoring regions in this index include much of the developing world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Carribean and Latin America, as well as some central and south Asian countries.

The developed world has an inevitable edge in making rapid progress in the AI revolution. With greater economic capacity, these wealthier countries are naturally best positioned to make large investments in the research and development needed for creating modern AI models.

In contrast, developing countries often have more urgent priorities, such as education, sanitation, healthcare and feeding the population, which override any significant investment in digital transformation. In this climate, AI could widen the digital divide that already exists between developed and developing countries.

The hidden costs of modern AI

AI is traditionally defined as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines”. To solve problems and perform tasks, AI models generally look at past information and learn rules for making predictions based on unique patterns in the data.

AI is a broad term, comprising two main areas – machine learning and deep learning. While machine learning tends to be suitable when learning from smaller, well-organised datasets, deep learning algorithms are more suited to complex, real-world problems – for example, predicting respiratory diseases using chest X-ray images.

Many modern AI-driven applications, from the Google translate feature to robot-assisted surgical procedures, leverage deep neural networks. These are a special type of deep learning model loosely based on the architecture of the human brain.

Crucially, neural networks are data hungry, often requiring millions of examples to learn how to perform a new task well. This means they require a complex infrastructure of data storage and modern computing hardware, compared to simpler machine learning models. Such large-scale computing infrastructure is generally unaffordable for developing nations.

A robot assistant holds a tablet.
The developed world has an inevitable edge in the AI revolution. MikeDotta/Shutterstock

Beyond the hefty price tag, another issue that disproportionately affects developing countries is the growing toll this kind of AI takes on the environment. For example, a contemporary neural network costs upwards of US$150,000 to train, and will create around 650kg of carbon emissions during training (comparable to a trans-American flight). Training a more advanced model can lead to roughly five times the total carbon emissions generated by an average car during its entire lifetime.

Developed countries have historically been the leading contributors to rising carbon emissions, but the burden of such emissions unfortunately lands most heavily on developing nations. The global south generally suffers disproportionate environmental crises, such as extreme weather, droughts, floods and pollution, in part because of its limited capacity to invest in climate action.

Developing countries also benefit the least from the advances in AI and all the good it can bring – including building resilience against natural disasters.

Using AI for good

While the developed world is making rapid technological progress, the developing world seems to be underrepresented in the AI revolution. And beyond inequitable growth, the developing world is likely bearing the brunt of the environmental consequences that modern AI models, mostly deployed in the developed world, create.

But it’s not all bad news. According to a 2020 study, AI can help achieve 79% of the targets within the sustainable development goals. For example, AI could be used to measure and predict the presence of contamination in water supplies, thereby improving water quality monitoring processes. This in turn could increase access to clean water in developing countries.

The benefits of AI in the global south could be vast – from improving sanitation to helping with education, to providing better medical care. These incremental changes could have significant flow-on effects. For example, improved sanitation and health services in developing countries could help avert outbreaks of disease.

But if we want to achieve the true value of “good AI”, equitable participation in the development and use of the technology is essential. This means the developed world needs to provide greater financial and technological support to the developing world in the AI revolution. This support will need to be more than short term, but it will create significant and lasting benefits for all.

Joyjit Chatterjee, Data Scientist (KTP Associate), University of Hull and Nina Dethlefs, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science, University of Hull

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics

GreenBiz came up with these six tips for deploying data-driven energy management to drive meaningful emission reductions through reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics. So here is a much down to earth way to a certain decarbonisation strategy.

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics

By David Solsky

February 25, 2021

This article is sponsored by Envizi.

After a low-carbon target has been setGHG accounting baselines have been calculated and financial-grade GHG reporting has been established, the next chapter of decarbonization comes to the fore. What emission reduction strategies will be needed to reach your company’s target, and how should your team prioritize its efforts to plot the fastest, most cost-effective pathway for your business? 

Nearly 40 percent of global CO2 emissions come from the built environment — with 28 percent resulting from buildings in operation. Whether your organization owns, operates or occupies a building, data-driven energy management is key to reducing its GHG footprint and Scope 1 and 2 emissions.  

In the past, organizations have struggled to scale building operational energy improvement efforts for a variety of reasons. The most-cited reasons include organizational structures that fracture ownership of energy performance across disparate stakeholders, a lack of goal alignment and collaboration between landlords and occupiers, and the preponderance of legacy systems that make interoperability and data consolidation challenging.  

According to United Nations projections, carbon emissions from buildings are expected to double by 2050 if action at scale doesn’t occur. With more companies pledging to decarbonize their business, and investors increasingly scrutinizing ESG data, scalable energy management will be a critical step in the transition to a low-carbon economy.  

Today, we share six tips for deploying data-driven energy management at scale to drive meaningful emission reductions from your business. 

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics
Portfolio energy management software. Source: Envizi.

Collect meter-level energy consumption data where possible  

Identifying GHG reduction opportunities should be a data-driven, systematic process. Start by examining building-level energy meter profiles and understanding how usage patterns relate to changing occupancy and weather conditions. Meters, which typically generate one datapoint every 15 to 30 minutes, as opposed to one datapoint every month or quarter on a utility bill, provide rich data to better inform your organization’s decarbonization strategy. 

Tip: Leverage meter data, which provides real-time transparency of when and where energy is being used, to identify unexpected usage patterns and unlock higher-resolution benchmarking and analysis opportunities.  

Benchmark the energy intensity of your building portfolio 

Building-level energy management is powerful, but it never pays to operate in a vacuum. Understanding how a building performs compared to others provides context and can help your organization identify where to focus first. The approach to benchmarking depends on the type of buildings in your portfolio. 

For example, typical portfolios of small to medium buildings (buildings of 4,000 to 20,000 square feet or so) often include many buildings dispersed across a geography (such as convenience stores, bank branches and fast-food stores), while large shopping centers, hospitals and universities manage larger, but fewer, centralized complex buildings. 

Portfolios with larger commercial buildings can leverage third-party frameworks, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Energy Star and NABERS, which compare energy intensity against an industry benchmark.

For portfolios of small to medium buildings that are dispersed, external benchmarks are harder to find. In this case, Envizi recommends internal benchmarking using meter data to make meaningful performance comparisons. Advanced normalization techniques can be applied to identify the poorest performers in the portfolio, which helps to inform a highly targeted strategy for improving efficiency and reducing emissions.  

Tip: Undertake energy benchmarking before making investment decisions — don’t make the mistake of focusing on areas where there are no material savings. Envizi’s software can combine meter data with other contextual data (floor area, weather, operating schedules, and production units) to enable performance comparisons on a normalized basis. 

Tune operational and behavioral efficiency 

Buildings can be complex, but not as complex as building operations: the interaction between a building, its operators and occupants, and flow-on effects to energy performance. 

Building services such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), which often account for almost 30 percent of annual emissions, are subject to continuous change and are often responsible for considerable “energy drift” over time due to poor operational practices. For this reason, technology that proactively informs and educates building operators is necessary to support time-poor operations teams to maintain optimum performance. 

Tip: Systems go out of tune when people manipulate equipment for comfort, which typically worsens over time. Sophisticated technology continuously automates and monitors the HVAC performance to flag human adjustment that renders systems wasteful and inefficient. 

Often, manual audits will not detect the inefficiencies, but Envizi’s software uses a combination of continuous equipment monitoring, building management systems data, equipment nameplate data, weather data and other metrics to provide transparency to HVAC system performance and uncover operational issues that are otherwise difficult to detect.  

Consider plant and equipment upgrades 

Investing in equipment to deliver emissions reductions is dependent on an organization’s scale, scope and asset type and may be relevant only to building owners. 

The appetite for plant and equipment upgrades may depend on how long the asset owner intends to hold the asset, the age of the building and the age of the equipment. Envizi recommends that building owners and operators engage their engineering consultants and specialist contractors to determine the feasibility of plant and equipment upgrades. 

Tip: Technology can assist in the pre- and post-analysis of reduction projects to measure effectiveness and return on investment (ROI). Envizi’s software uses the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol to ensure calculations will withstand audit and validation. 

Consider on-site and off-site renewables 

After implementing solutions for operational, behavioral and system efficiencies, many organizations seek renewable energy as a proactive solution to get ahead on the decarbonization journey. Decisions on whether to procure on-site or off-site renewables are complex, and Envizi recommends coordinating with your organization’s engineering consultant or specialist contractor to assess its options. 

Tip: Software platforms such as the one offered by Envizi can assist with monitoring the performance of solar assets, comparing the actual performance to promised performance and integrating the accounting of the renewable energy certificates to facilitate the most traceable reporting and auditing process.  

Engage stakeholders

Energy management is rarely the remit of one team, but rather involves multiple stakeholders across an organization. The success of any emissions-reduction effort will be affected by the organization’s ability to effectively engage a cross-collaborative stakeholder group.   

Typically, organizations with a strong culture of governance and executive ownership of the energy agenda can make the most impactful positive change. Often, inspirational leaders can make the difference with robust internal communication, empowerment through clear roles and responsibilities, and incentives for employees to take ownership of the energy reduction goals.  

Tip: Find a senior executive-level champion to shepherd the decarbonization journey while supporting the pursuit of their business goals, whether ROI, risk mitigation or otherwise. Leverage a single system of record to track emissions and energy management opportunities to better enable cross-functional collaboration between stakeholder groups.  

Conclusion

The transition to a low-carbon economy will require organizations to drastically increase the energy efficiency of buildings in operation. The following data-driven tactics can help your organization identify and achieve meaningful emission reductions: 

  • Collect meter data where possible to understand granular energy consumption.
  • Benchmark the energy performance of the buildings by size/cohort in your organization’s portfolio to identify poor performers. 
  • Use technology to monitor how HVAC systems are configured, to detect energy waste and optimization opportunities. 
  • Before implementing equipment retrofits, solar photovoltaics or energy projects, engage a specialist to understand your organization’s options, and use data to establish a baseline against which to measure improvements.
  • Nominate a senior executive to champion your organization’s emissions-reduction program. A single system of record for emissions and energy can help enable cross-functional collaboration. 

If you’d like to learn more about using data and technology to streamline and accelerate decarbonization, read “Pathway to Low-Carbon Guide.”

New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability

New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability

Rich Miller writes in DATACENTERFrontier that Beyond Green Power: New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability can easily be envisioned as these are increasingly populating planet earth.

Above picture is of Large pipes sporting Google’s logo colors move water throughout the cooling plant at the Google’ data center in Douglas County, Georgia. (Photo: Google)

February 3, 2021

New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability
Get the full report.

Sustainable Construction Strategies

More data center projects will integrate sustainability into design and construction, with early collaboration between teams to minimize the environmental impact of the construction process and create a building with low operational carbon impact, enabling more effective and cost-efficient offset strategies. Design collaboration is essential in seeking to integrate cleaner technologies into the power chain and cooling systems.

Several data center providers are working with CarbonCure, which makes a low-carbon “greener” concrete material for the tile-up walls that frame data centers. Concrete’s durability and strength are ideal for industrial construction, but the production of cement requires the use of massive kilns, which require large amounts of energy, and the actual chemical process emits staggeringly high levels of CO2. CarbonCure takes CO2 produced by large emitters like refineries and chemically mineralizes it during the concrete manufacturing process to make greener and stronger concrete. The process reduces the volume of cement required in the mixing of concrete, while also permanently removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Waste Stream Accountability and the ‘Circular Economy’

A key priority is tracking the environmental impact of construction components, including a “reverse logistics” process to track the waste stream and disposition of debris. Asset recovery and recycling specialists will become key partners, and the most successful projects will communicate goals and best practices across the contractors and trades participating in each project. The goal is a “circular economy” that reuses and repurposes materials.

Managing packaging for equipment that is shipped to a data center facility is an important and often underlooked facet of waste stream accountability. There are also opportunities in reuse of components and equipment that that can still be productive (although this must be closely managed in a mission-critical environment).

The ability to document a net-zero waste stream impact has the potential to emerge as an additional metric for data center service providers, as customers consider the entirety of their supplier’s sustainability programs.

Green Certifications

As customers ask tougher questions about a providers’ environmental practices and corporate social responsibility policies, certifications may emerge as another avenue for service providers to differentiate themselves.

Several ISO certifications, including ISO 50001 and ISO 14001, which Iron Mountain is certified for across its global data center portfolio, focus on energy management and provide frameworks that can assure stakeholders that the provider is considering energy impact and environmental goals in audits, communications, labeling and equipment life cycle analysis.

Water Conservation and Management

Amid changing weather patterns, many areas of the world are facing drought conditions and water is becoming a scarcer and more valuable resource. Data center operators are stepping up their efforts to reduce their reliance on potable water supplies.

Sustainable water strategies include both sourcing and design. On the sourcing front, several Google facilities include water treatment plants that allow it to cool its servers using local bodies of water or waste water from municipal water systems. Data center districts in Ashburn (Va.), Quincy (Washington) and San Antonio offer “grey water” feeds that provide recycled waste water to industrial customers.

On the design front, more providers are choosing cooling systems with minimal need for water, while others are incorporating rainwater recovery strategies that capture rain from huge roofs or parking lots and store it on site, reducing potential burden on local water systems.

Matching Workloads to Renewable Energy

Google has been a leader in the use of artificial intelligence and sophisticated energy provisioning to match its operations to carbon-free energy sources. The company recently said it will power its entire global information empire entirely with carbon-free energy by 2030, matching every hour of its data center operations to carbon-free energy sources. This marks an ambitious step forward in using technology to create exceptional sustainability.

Google can currently account for all its operations with energy purchases. But the intermittent nature of renewable energy creates challenges in matching green power to IT operations around the clock. Solar power is only available during daylight hours. Wind energy can be used at night, but not when the wind dies down. Google created a “carbon-intelligent computing platform” that optimizes for green energy by rescheduling workloads that are not time-sensitive, matching workloads to solar power during the day, and wind energy in the evening, for example. The company also hopes to move workloads between data centers to boost its use of renewables, a strategy that offers even greater potential gains by shifting data center capacity to locations where green energy is more plentiful, routing around utilities that are slow to adopt renewables.

Google has pledged to share its advances with the broader data center industry, providing others with the tools to reduce carbon impact. Continued instrumentation of older data centers is a key step in this direction.

Eliminating Diesel Generators

New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability
A backup generator at a Microsoft data center in Virginia. (Photo: Rich Miller)

Microsoft recently announced plans to eliminate its reliance on diesel fuel by the year 2030, which has major implications for the company’s data centers, many of which use diesel-powered generators for emergency backup power. With its new deadline, Microsoft sets in motion a push to either replace its generators with cleaner technologies, or perhaps eliminate them altogether by managing resiliency through software.

Eliminating expensive generators and UPS systems has been a goal for some hyperscale providers. Facebook chose Lulea, Sweden for a data center because the robust local power grid allowed it to operate with fewer generators. In the U.S., providers have experimented with “data stations” that operate with no generators on highly-reliable locations on the power grid.

There are four primary options companies have pursued as alternatives to generators — fuel cells, lithium-ion batteries, shifting capacity to smaller edge data centers that can more easily run on batteries, and shifting to cloud-based resiliency.

Fuel Cells and On-Site Power

Microsoft has successfully tested the use of hydrogen fuel cells to power its data center servers. The company called the test “a worldwide first that could jump-start a long-forecast clean energy economy built around the most abundant element in the universe.”

Microsoft said it recently ran a row of 10 racks of Microsoft Azure cloud servers for 48 hours using a 250-kilowatt hydrogen-powered fuel cell system at a facility near Salt Lake City, Utah. Since most data center power outages last less than 48 hours, the test offered a strong case that fuel cells could be used in place of diesel generators to keep a data center operating through a utility outage.

Some companies, like Equinix and eBay, have deployed Bloom Energy fuel cells to improve reliability and cut energy costs, but have powered them with natural gas. The use of biofuels looms as another potential avenue to pair fuel cells with renewable sourcing.

Energy Storage

New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability
An illustration of the Tesla Megapack, which provides 3 megawatts of energy storage capacity. (Image: Tesla)

Utility-scale energy storage has long been the missing link in the data center industry’s effort to power the cloud with renewable energy. Energy storage could overcome the intermittent generation patterns of leading renewable sources. Solar panels only generate power when the sun is shining, and wind turbines are idle in calm weather. Energy storage could address that gap, allowing renewable power to be stored for use overnight and on windless days.

A new project in Nevada will showcase a potential solution from Tesla, the electric car company led by tech visionary Elon Musk. Data center technology company Switch will use new large-scale energy storage technology from Tesla to boost its use of solar energy for its massive data center campuses in Las Vegas and Reno. It is a promising project in pioneering a holistic integration of renewable power, energy storage and Internet-scale data centers.

Talking Sustainability With Experts

Don’t miss the last installment of this series that features a conversation on the future of sustainable data centers. Data Center Frontier Editor Rich Miller discusses the topic with Kevin Hagen, Director, Corporate Responsibility at Iron Mountain, and Alex Sharp, Global Head of Design & Construction — Data Centers at Iron Mountain.

It’s a preview of the upcoming webinar  where these experts will discuss sustainability strategies for greener data centers.

And catch up on the first entry here, followed by an exploration of the power of the “negawatt.” 

Download the full report, Green Data Centers and The Sustainability Imperative, courtesy of Iron Mountain, to explore how climate change and a greening of data centers is changing the industry.

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