Just when I got through telling a group of utility representatives that solar PV had little headway with data center operators, a story comes out from Data Center Dynamics touting that (US Data Centers Turn to Solar Power".
The story notes that Lifeline Data Centers has installed enough PV on its facility in Indianapolis to “provide enough power for the data center for 25 years”.
The 4 MW array covers the roof of the facility and a parking area, and was installed with the financial support (incentives) of Indianapolis Power and Light.
So am I abashed? Not quite (healthy ego and all that helps!).
The photograph accompanying the article, which seems to show that the roof-mounted portion of the installation has the lion’s share of the panels, immediately puzzled me.
If you assume that the array delivers a 50% load factor, it would generate enough power to serve 2 MW of site load for a facility that evidently draws 8 MW. Throw in a PUE of say 1.5, and we’re down to 1.3 MW of IT load, which would fit in one corner of the building.
And that’s just my quick take – you should look for a more expert opinion. And the DCD’s credit, they published one from Mark Monroe, who was Sun’s sustainability man before serving as the executive director of the Green Grid, and is now at data center design firm DLB Associates.
Mark’s calculations are way more refined than my back-of-the-envelope musings, which is expected given that he wrote his masters thesis on solar power. His analysis is a way more refined look at actual power generation and use, rather than the pure demand numbers I looked at.
He estimates that the solar array might generate around five percent of the site load, or to put it in a more positive light, twelve percent of the “overhead” load (part of Mark’s proposal to judge self generation at data centers on a “net zero overhead” basis).
So, are we to be harshly critical of Lifeline’s hyperbole, or of other self-generation projects in the industry?
I agree with Mark that we should applaud thoughtful efforts by data center developers and operators to address energy efficiency, power procurement, and self generation as a means of addressing the very real and often large environmental impacts of their facilities.
However, with the scrutiny of the industry by NGOs, the media, and regulators, companies should step back and present their accomplishments clearly scrupulously. Overstating benefits will only get you called out, and will detract from the very real gains that are being made.