Is critical infrastructure ready for solar? “Absolutely. As data center power consumption continues to increase, more & more end users invest in renewable energy to help offset their power consumption,” says Robbie Sovie, Executive Vice President for Development and Construction at T5 Data Centers. “For example, the hyperscale data center community has strategic plans to offset 100% of their global power consumption with renewable energy. A large percentage of this offset comes from solar generated power,” explains Sovie.
This is a trend the hyperscale data center users have also adopted. In September 2019, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced what he called “the biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history.” Eighteen new energy deals will boost Google’s renewable energy portfolio by 40%. The company’s new solar energy buys in three U.S. states alone will more than double its total investments around the world. The move is part of Google’s drive to power all of its data centers 24/7 with renewables.
But can intermittent power from solar energy, which delivers only when the sun is shining, really become a viable source for such critical infrastructure as data centers?
That’s a big “Yes,” says Sovie.
Falling Costs Drive the Solar Advantage
“The costs for a solar array installation are more economical than it was 10 year ago. In fact, the costs have drastically decreased, Sovie says. Ten years ago, the costs to install a solar array was $8 to $12 per watt. Depending on the scale and design of the project, the cost to install a solar array today ranges from below $1 up to $3 per watt, Sovie explains.
All to the good. But how can solar power keep the lights on at mission-critical facilities such as data centers—whose customers depend on 24/7 uptime—when the sun isn’t shining?
Arrangements with utilities let companies that generate their own electricity sell it when they have it to spare and buy it when they don’t. That helps facilities with solar arrays get through the night or cloudy days and still offset their energy needs. That’s also the approach the hyperscalers use to match their electricity use around the world with renewable energy.
But, there’s another increasingly viable solution: storage.
The Storage Solution
The storage of solar-generated power will be critical to the overall industry as technology continues to develop. Battery technologies such as lithium-ion, pure lead, and valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries continue to improve. In addition, the costs have decreased over recent years. That has made batteries a viable option for storing energy from solar arrays. “The more effective battery technology becomes, the easier it is to store excess solar capacity,” Sovie says.
The Environmental Benefit
Besides the economic benefits, Sovie sees it as a responsibility to implement reliable solutions that don’t put additional strain on the power grid. “As much power as the data center industry consumes, it’s our responsibility to drive solutions with regards to solar implementation across the US,” says Sovie.
For T5, that means helping other companies build solar arrays. In T5’s Construction Services team announced a partnership with Cherry Street Energy to provide construction services for solar arrays. “T5, as a mission-critical developer, sees it as a responsibility to be involved with the renewable energy sector,” Sovie says. “With our construction service business line, it’s the perfect way for us to do it.”
For more information about T5 Construction Services’ solar and renewable services, visit https://t5datacenters.com/sustainability/.