Data centers bear the heavy weight of our insatiable thirst for online content and digital processes. While streaming a film is not quite as energy-intensive as a long-haul flight, the proportion of global energy demand from data centers is one percent. Trying to lower that number is difficult, especially as individuals and companies alike are migrating to the cloud and relying more on digital solutions. This could offset some environmental impact; for instance, driving to work often generates more carbon than working from home digitally does. But only by meeting the demand for digital with green energy, can we avoid more damage to our planet.
This is not a new idea; in fact, colocation companies have been considering green energy for a while. In 2007, the Green Grid was founded, a non-profit that sought to make these global data centers more efficient. Back then high prices forced most colocation companies to give up on sustainability.
Winds of change
Since then, colocation companies have had a change of heart. Hyperscalers are demanding ever more from Big Data, cloud computing, and data centers generally, all while holding themselves and suppliers accountable for lowering carbon emissions. This turn in tide towards sustainability comes after a decade or two of huge technological advances. The cost of onshore and offshore wind has reduced by 46% and 44% respectively, and the capacity of wind power has increased between 2007 and now. Progress in the construction, maintenance, and location of wind turbines has increased the profitability of wind and positioned wind power as the more appropriate energy for data centers than fossil fuels.
Many data centers are now powered by wind power or other renewables. Google, for example, matched 100% of its annual energy use with purchases of wind or solar power four years running. Similarly, Microsoft recently began running data centers in Sweden entirely with wind power from the nearby Vattenfall wind farm and is even putting pressure on governments to clean up the power grid. Although these big names help to mainstream wind power, it does reveal that purchases of green power are only feasible to those looking to lease a huge amount of energy at a time.
Demand response: Data centers for the little guy?
One solution to this is the work of windCORES, who discovered that unused wind power could power one third of data centers in Germany. Not only that, but data centers are the perfect candidate for demand response, meaning that their power consumption can, to a certain degree, changed to match the supply available. windCORES’ idea was to place a small data center directly in the turbine. Here, loads that can be processed at a delayed point in time can then wait until times, like the middle of the night, when high winds produce far more power than a sleeping population requires. This potential, if realized, may make renewables more available to smaller organizations.
Lean, green, digitalization machine
High hopes surround both digitalization and wind energy: A more connected world, equal access to the benefits of technology, and all built on the premise of green energy. SKF too has been setting and meeting environmental goals, like climate neutrality and the development of eco-friendly components. But perhaps the biggest contribution could be made by helping the wind industry with innovations that improve efficiency and decrease downtime – because the hopes of a speedy and green digital transformation must, and can, become reality.